This year I had the pleasure of joining over 170,000 people at CES 2020 in Las Vegas. Spread over 3 main sites, across 4 days, and with around 6,000 exhibitors showing off the latest and greatest in tech and experience, CES is the world’s largest conference for consumer technology in all of its crazy and jaw-dropping forms. It’s the perfect place to observe key trends and consumer behaviours, and for getting under the skin of how new and emerging tech might shape the future experience and expression of the brands we work with.
Attending events like CES is incredibly important for us; it can influence how we think, how we design, and inspire ways in which we can leverage technology to build stronger and more meaningful emotional connections between brands and consumers. And it did not disappoint.
Amongst some of the headline tech showcased were the concept cars (both Sony and the Mercedes-Benz “Avatar” car), Delta’s Exoskeleton, Segway’s S-Pod and the Manta5 Hydrofoil bike. It was a frenzy of brilliant thinking and awe-inspiring execution. But amidst the sensory overload I picked up on some key themes that will influence how we think about brands on a broader scale…
OrCam showcased its AI computer vision and machine learning tech, which provides increased independence for those with hearing and/or vision impairments. OrCam Hear, which won a CES Best Innovation Award this year, uses AI to reads lips and body gestures, and even determines which voice should be heard in crowded conversations.
NEON is Samsung’s artificial human companion. Not designed as an ‘ask all’ AI, but more as a visual responsive human-like companion that you can interact with, it’s freakishly realistic when you experience it. NEON points to an interesting future of humanoid visual assistants with their own personalities that respond, in real-time, through not only voice but also body language, making them much more emotionally engaging than many other assistant technologies.
BIC invites you to join their R&D squad, NextBICthing, a global community that is actively engaged in helping BIC understand and shape the future of the shaving experience. This is a great example of a brand actively interacting with consumers as ‘fans’ to help shape their products and innovations in a more open, public way. AI and sensors are also built into its ‘AI-enabled prototype shaver’, and the brand is using this to build awareness and consumer relationships well before a new product is launched.
‘Hey Google!’ Google was visible on every CES stand that leveraged its Google Assistant platform this year; wherever Google’s voice tech was being used by a partner company (big or small), there was a physical Google Assistant on the stand, ready to answer questions and add credibility to the partner company’s product. This really reinforces Google’s positioning of building a common and consistent interface for all your home accessory interactions.
Drinkworks, a collaboration between Keurig, ABInBev and Loop, is the newest and most exciting in-home cocktail maker. Yes, we’ve seen many of these before, but the smartness of the Drinkworks design lies not only in how it works (and the brilliant Moscow Mule it made me), but more importantly the collaboration of three complementary skillsets to deliver a complete ‘nose-to-tail’ consumer experience. Keurig provide the expertise in the machine hardware, ABInBev the experience in liquid production, and Loop for delivery and recovery. Combined, this is a truly excellent result. It’s not just tech – it’s tech that makes a tangible difference. And a great Moscow Mule.
Initially launched as a concept in 2019, LOVOT is tech that helps with loneliness. A small personal robo-companion, LOVOT is aimed at those who would benefit from companionship and emotional interaction at home. It’s surprisingly engaging and responsive when you speak to it, touch it or even move, and you quickly become emotionally engaged and invested due to its behaviour. I can see exactly how this kind of technology could have a positive impact on health and mental wellbeing for those who live alone or have less interaction with people on a day-to-day basis due to mobility issues, for example.
The OPTE Beauty Wand by P&G was initially launch in 2019 as concept, and now it is fully realised as a personalised digital makeup application device. In real time it reads the surface of your skin by capturing 200 images per second, analyses the results then directly “prints” over your skin’s blemishes with colour accurate concealer. An at home, precise skin care solution, it echoes the hyper-personalisation and customisation trends across many other categories and is another great example of how a brand is innovating and growing its product solutions to treat each person as an individual rather than as a general “catch all” group of consumers.
And on a similar note was L’Oreal Perso, the world first AI-powered device for personalised at-home skincare and cosmetics. Unveiled at CES, Perso creates and dispenses personalised formulas based on a cutting edge 3-in-1 tech solution:
This is all done in real time, ensuring that the user has full in-home control of their changing skincare and cosmetics needs.
Changing the way people experience health, beauty and wellness in their bathroom at home, Care OS is an open platform that aims to connect products, tech and services into one single digital platform. Its ‘Poseidon Mirror’ was revealed at CES and is a brilliant interactive bathroom surface that provides a range of functions such as virtually trying cosmetics using AR tutorials, skin analysis and even hygiene gamification for younger members of the family. It also uses facial recognition to auto-adjust the settings and functions to each person in the household.
Brands need to think about how their product portfolios migrate from visual-based shopping environments to voice-based ones, and Amazon repeated the importance of maximising brand potential through voice-based shopping using Alexa at CES this year. With many brands having a large array of product variants, how do they get consumers to remember and verbalise what they want in a simple way that Alexa can understand? Brands need to think about how they seed a voice-based product call into the consumer memory through supporting comms, design, product variants and naming so that it works effectively.
There was lots of hype and conversation around Quibi in a number of talks I attended, and the short-form video streaming start-up seems like one to watch. The launch is planned for later this year, positioning itself as a platform for quick entertainment content that will fit into any moment of your day, and content producers are already lining up and preparing bite-sized content. For brands, this poises an interesting opportunity for producing branded content that goes beyond product push advertising, and instead creating content that entertains, celebrates brand values, and that people genuinely want to seek out to see.
Charmin debuted its robot that delivers toilet rolls so you never get caught without! I loved how P&G Life Lab had so much fun with this one, and it provoked a lot of interest and discussion on the stand about the role of tech and robotics in our day-to-day lives. But just because we can, does it mean we should? Saying this, ideas like this often lead brands into new, interesting and unexpected places – so you never know.
Why cook off the boring orange ring of your induction hob when you could cook over a digital campfire? GHSP is a visual LCD display that integrates into induction hobs and allows for you to customise the image you see and cook on. It was great to see GHSP, who are experts in automotive tech, reimagining the cooking surface in an entertaining way.
And finally, LUA, which helps your plants communicate their feelings to you. What made me smile was how the LUA team has imagined the responses that the plant would give and translated them visually. They’ve created a great emotional character that I think people could really relate to.
So, my overall takeaway from CES? The era of experience is here and, now more than ever, it’s crucial for brands to foster consumer empathy through design in order to build a valued experience with their consumers. Design and experiences that genuinely emotionally connect with consumers.
Secondly, using tech to enhance brand experiences needs to be delivered inclusively – not only through functionality but, more importantly, brands need to be wary of creating barriers of cost so that it’s not just the wealthy who can benefit from the use of tech in personal care, wellness, travel, and so on.
Technology is no longer an alien entity to be suspicious of or cynical about. It’s helpful, it’s enabling, and it’s amongst us. We should all embrace tech, in all of its weird and wonderful guises.
Ed Mitchell is Group Brand Experience Director at Design Bridge.