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The changing voice of CES: cars steal the show

CES now positions itself as a global platform for innovation, meaning it is far more than just consumer electronic products, seeing exhibitors and speakers from all corners of the tech world converge for three days in Las Vegas.

Therefore, you would expect to see all the big hitters of the tech world represented, however, this year’s CES sprang a few surprises, with the spotlight on many new crowd funded start ups and the absence of Goliath brands like Microsoft. Time will tell us if this is a shift in where innovation is being generated or just a shift in PR strategy.

Just to prove CES is far more than just a hardware show, we saw Marissa Mayer deliver a keynote speech to announce Yahoo’s purchase of Aviate. A company, who produce an app with the capability to display different apps on your phone home screen, based on your own user behaviour. As well as this, the Yahoo CEO announced numerous improvements to its advertising business based around context.

Summarising the sheer variety of CES is difficult, but broadly the breakthrough announcements that captured the media’s imagination can be grouped under three areas: Wearable, Connected Cars and Ultra HD TV.

Wearable technology has been on the horizon for a while. In fact the first Samsung cell phone watch was displayed at CES in 2001 and the wearable Phillips Camera back in 2004. Since then the tech has not only got smaller, but smarter.

Much of the wearable tech at CES allows consumers to quantify their life, but overall we saw evolution rather than revolution. Activity trackers such as LG’s Life Band and heart rate earphones and Sony’s Core represent the first of the major manufacturers to launch into this space. The LG offering is a step forward as it can integrate with a range of existing fitness apps and works for both Android & IOS, while the Core may have the potential in the future to do more than fitness when meshed to a Sony handset.

If manufacturers are willing to share this rich data, there is huge potential for marketers to better understand actual consumer behaviour and target relevant dynamic messages according to their activities. The challenge for the brands is the fact that the majority of wearable tech at CES is competing for the same pool of consumers. For this to become truly mass in 2014, wearable tech needs to find a role beyond fitness.

Pebble may be the example of a brand trying to do just that. A child of Kickstarter, Pebble announced their new attractive Pebble Steel, which aims to bring your whole network to your wrist with over 3000 Pebble compatible apps in development and the potential to even connect with your Mercedes. However, the challenge for marketers is that the category remains fragmented, leading to a variety of different approaches making scalable data partnerships difficult.

The real headline grabbers from this year’s CES were actually car manufacturers, causing some to dub CES 2014 the unofficial Las Vegas auto show. A year ago, there were concept announcements about driverless cars, but this year has seen BMW and Audi carry out real life demos of their self-drifting self-driving cars. Although driverless vehicles are not yet legal on UK roads, with further testing and successful demos, it doesn’t seem that far off.

The more immediate impact for consumers will be seen through improved connectivity between devices and the car. Hyundai, Audi, Honda and GM all announced they were joining Google’s Automotive Alliance (OAA), which indicates a shift to greater consolidation within the category, as these marques will all use Android as their in-car computer operating system. For consumers this means a more seamless, user-friendly experience that links their existing devices.

For advertisers, this is still far removed from the advertising ecosystem, as this is not the auto manufacturers’ priority. However, there are emerging opportunities with 3rd party apps, such as Pandora and USA Today. The former is currently rolling out an in-vehicle audio advertising platform and the latter has developed an app compatible with Ford cars and able to translate a visual banner ad, to appear within the Ford’s display, to text.

If connected cars were the most exciting tech out of the home, in the home there were several exciting 4K ready TVs on show at CES. 4K is effectively ultra HD, delivering four times the resolution of 1080p Full HD, which in other money is eight million pixels, creating a photo real moving image from any distance. With 2014 being a World Cup year, which historically sees a TV sales spike pre-tournament, this is the TV ‘must have’.

If size is everything and money no object, Samsung and LG led the way with their 105″ ultra wide TVs. Panasonic showcased how to combine beautiful and smart with their new AX800 range, which runs on its new TV platform ‘Life+Screen’.  It can be controlled by voice and gesture, using face recognition and motion sensors, which, in turn, react or respond intuitively to the user.

The most surprising 4K TV was actually the catchy-named Lenovo Thinkvision2840m, although only 28″, it launches in April for a well-priced £510, undercutting other 4k screens by £1000s, which should really shake up the market. As penetration of smart TVs increases, marketers and agencies need to be thinking now about filming in 4K and working with content partners such as Netflix who are backing the platform.

If you were to ask me what innovation from CES I’d be adding to my Christmas list this year, it has to be Singtrix. Developed by the team behind Guitar Hero this smart karaoke device, links with any karaoke app and mic, and can literally transform any singing voice. Even mine.


Chrissy Totty, head of innovation


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