Last week, technophiles from across the globe converged in Las Vegas for CES 2016. With the sheer volume of breakthroughs over the past year, it comes with little surprise that there was much to talk about and even more to see. Always one to stay ahead of the curve, our Technology Director, Gareth Price, spoke about the show, which gadgets actually lived up to the hype and what to expect as we move forward.
Virtual reality has certainly lived within futurist fantasy for some time, but it wasn’t until the past year or so that it became a tangible technology for manufacturers both big and small. While the line for Oculus’ activation meant a several hour wait, presentations from NextVR and Syfy Labs weren’t to be missed. As made clear by these activations, video gaming has found a natural place in the VR field, but sports content—while certainly immersive—raised interesting questions about experience. “One of the interesting criticisms of VR is that it takes communal experiences like sports and makes them very isolating,” Price said. “Can we create a communal experience with this technology? Or are we all just going to be sitting in giant rooms with helmets on, ignoring each other?”
In a similar vein, the current form of video and film content proves to be a challenge for adaptation. “VR is definitely fascinating,” Price said, “but it seems difficult to create an entertainment form around it. Can you use VR for visual content filmed on linear tracks?”
Autonomous vehicles, too, took off in a big way. Though we may conceive of such modes of transportation as figments of the near future, CES challenged that notion with helicopter-style drones from EHang—which, pending approval, could quickly transform the sightseeing tourism industry—algorithmic swarms and self-driving cars from the likes of Toyota.
As something already omnipresent in our lives, screens—specifically the sheer variety of sizes that will be available in years to come—were certainly something to take note of. As fixtures in LG’s Kitchen of the Future and concept cars from Mercedes-Benz, it seems that screens will do away with analog controls and flatten functions entirely.
Though many designers often think of mobile and PC configurations, screen innovation suggests that current approaches might need to be rethought. “The screens are abnormal sizes: they’re curved, they’re wide, they’re very big, they’re very small,” Price said. “That’s going to have a lot of implications with designing experiences and campaigns. In the future, you won’t be able to build for set screen sizes, because there’ll be so many different types of display. Ultimately, the branding will have to be stronger so that you can have a common theme across massively different configurations.”
Last, but certainly not least, wearable technology’s presence at CES denotes some shifts that hint at their transition from accessory to necessity. Since the launch of the Apple Watch, perceptions of wearables have been somewhat limited. As stated by Price, wearables have become something of a sleeping giant in two key markets. “Everyone’s excited about Apple Watches and pendants, which are starting to look more fashionable rather than tech-driven, but really where this is going to become a billion dollar industry is in medical and education,” he said. “I feel like that was pretty underrepresented in the media, but more present at CES. It gave you the full sense of the scope of that market and made clear how much they’re going to change the world and save lives.”
Although full of flash and excitement, CES is much more than a week-long exhibition. “While perhaps not directly applicable to what we are doing, CES serves as a cultural barometer: you can see the platforms of the future and ultimately where marketing of the future is going to be happening,” Price said. “It’s important as marketers to be aware of what’s going on at trade fairs like CES because they set the culture and direction of technology for years to come.”
In terms of what exactly is to come, Price found that future innovations may look very different from our current reality. “Technology is definitely moving away from computers and smartphones,” he said. “It’s becoming a pervasive fabric on top of everyday life where everything is digital, everything’s connected. And those are going to be the platforms where you can reach consumers in the future.”