The room was full, even though it was the day before CES started off in earnest. It would have been overflowing, no doubt, had awful weather across much of North America not made travel to Las Vegas an odyssey. Why so many?
We were all there to have someone make sense of all new shiny things and their seemingly limitless possibilities. We were there to have someone help us understand what was just a bright flash and what would change the world. We were there to hear Shawn G. DuBravac, chief economist for the Consumer Electronics Association (the organization that puts on CES), outline the trends that we should watch for in 2014 and the lenses through which we need view all this whiz-bang gadgetry.
Ogilvy & Mather will be analyzing the show to produce its own analysis—one specially suited to marketers and brands—and our conclusions will differ. However, DuBravac provides a larger, useful context in which to look at the coming year in technology.
These are the trends he identified and discussed:
Trend 1: Mass Customization
Humanity’s first industrial revolution broke out in 1760 as capital investment in shared tools and multiple shifts transformed the way things were made. A hundred years later, we started adding technology to those first steps and created mass production. We’re in the midst of a third industrial revolution now—one in which we’ve added customization to that mass production.
Want your Converse with your own color pattern and message? Just go online to design your bespoke pair. They’ll be shipped to you shortly. Motorola offers a customizable experience for its “X” smartphone, but the news there isn’t the product; it’s the changes that take place behind it. That mass customization decision led Motorola to move parts of the manufacturing for the phone to the US so that they could be closer to the biggest market. Your desire to have your own look and feel on your products helps feed the manufacturing resurgence in the States.
We can’t talk about mass customization without reference to 3D printing. It changes the economics of the supply chain, shortens the design cycle of a new product, and even enables consumers (eventually) to download the blueprints to customizable parts so that their products can well and truly be their own.
Trend 2: Multidimensional expansion of screen spectrum
Back in 2009, there were two types of screens. Big ones and small ones. Almost nobody sold anything in the 5 to 15 inch range. In 2010, the iPad dropped right into that void with its 10 inch size.Three years later, we’re selling 270 million tablets into a segment that was just empty space before.
That’s not the only change. We’re seeing screens growing (affordably) to larger and larger sizes, and along with those behemoths, we’re making useable displays—such as the embroynic smart watches, for which we’re still hunting for that killer app—that fall into the realm once occupied by little more than the remote control.
As the buzz around 4K televisions makes plain, pixel density is going to be a big story all year long. But the expansion of pixel count across all devices in all categories is accompanied by another quality change. Ultra HD is bringing unheard of color and dynamic range to the consumer.
Trend 3: The Age of Autonomy is Coming
Damn, nearly everything you buy these days has an embedded sensor. There were no embedded sensors back in 2006, but now they are cheap as dirt. Not only do we track motion in multiple planes, we have hybrid sensors that combine cameras or temperature or pulse. As a result, we can digitize everything. Everything is captured, and we have the internet, well, everywhere.
The big implication of this isn’t a product, however. It’s a fundamental change in what the internet will be. Right now, there are about 2 billion PCs in the world. There are around 1.5 billion smartphones and tablets. That ratio will flip in 2014 or 2015 and with that flip will come a more pronounced shift away from a browser-based world toward an app-based one. We’re already shifting what the internet is as a result as our mobile devices become “the viewfinders for our digital life.” But once billions and billions of connected devices link up to the net—as they will in the not-so-distant future—the internet will change once more. Machines can begin to operate on our behalf, as they already do with advanced cruise control on cars, and as data streams converge, the things that were impossible as little as 10 years ago will be on store shelves soon.
Trend 4: Curation and context
Those merging data streams have another outcome. All of these services enabled by these billions of sensors will soon help us make better decisions. Wearable computing can goad us into making better fitness and lifestyle decisions: that’s no stretch. But what if Netflix had more data about us? When they know the data stream from the sensors that surround you—the time of day, your heart rate, your sleep patterns, your location, and the number and identity of your companions at any time—the entertainment recommendations that come your way can be a heck of a lot better targeted to what you really want. There’s great benefit to that. And great risk.