February 4, 2014 | Written by: Saul Berman
For the past 15 or so years, I’ve posted my annual review of the Consumer Electronics Show, where I discuss which innovations I think will hit big in the coming year – and which ones left me scratching my head wondering….why? CES 2014 showcased more potentially disruptive innovations this year than ever before, as well as many ongoing incremental innovations.
So while I review innovations big and small, good and not so good….the key to future success is disruptive innovation. One example is 3D printing – this will change everything. Yes, it is early in deployment and the objects it creates today are still crude and largely limited to plastics and food. But 3D is real, forthcoming and will continue to improve. Companies like UPS are already putting 3D printers in some of their locations. So plan to radically change your supply chain!
Drones will be another game-changer. Today, they are flying around with no real destination, but they hold real promise for the future. Drones have been discussed by Amazon, but the real opportunity might lie with the U.S. Postal Service who could improve their economics by utilizing drones to deliver mail.
Other potentially important innovations I saw at CES this year:
Wearable Computing– Fitness bands, baby monitors, even clothing itself can be fitted with sensors and computing connectivity. The business models are in early development and need work but it is only a matter of time. Fitness bands and health monitors are only the starting point. These bands/monitors will also be our watches, and maybe our phones. Get one now and you are connected.
The Internet of Things-Yes, everything is connected to everything! Smart homes, robots to clean the homes and smart, connected cars were all demonstrated at CES. Your body with wearable computing becomes another node on the Internet of Things. Cisco has it right: the potential is in the cloud that connects everything.
Google Glass-Lots of “geeks” at the show were wearing them, though I’m not sure what they were doing with them — maybe taking pictures of the rest of us. They look odd and less than comfortable. Rumor has it even the Google employees prefer not wearing them. Likely they will have specialized use like in places such as hospitals but their application in day-to-day life is still unclear.
In addition to disruptive innovations, CES never fails to highlight incremental innovations in existing technologies. As always, some of them demonstrate real progress and some seemed like innovation for innovation’s sake, without much thought as to how people will use or benefit from the innovation. For example, smart watches were big this year, but really, they are nothing more than another form factor of a smart device, a content screen, a controller, or just a watch. Maybe smart, but still hard for most adults to use or see. So why do we need smaller?
Television innovations were also big this year. But does anyone really want or need a curved TV? Maybe gamers will see the difference even if others do not. I also saw Ultra HD TVs — good looking devices in all sizes, but where is the content? Who will spend for such incremental viewing improvement without the content being widely available? This one might be ahead of its time. Believe it or not, I saw 3D TV too (finally, without the silly glasses!) – but it’s probably too late. This wave has come and gone.
There was a lot of innovation around personal cameras (communication capability, instant printing) but I think it’s too late for the market. Who needs this when your iPhone or Android device have such good cameras and software?
Finally, there was a whole hall of Apple and Android accessories to supplement your memory or battery life or just provide a more fashionable case. You can only conclude there are high margin opportunities here by making this a fashion business. How often do you change your device case?
And last but not least – the Personal Computer. While PC manufacturers continue to innovate, we have reached the end of the PC era as we knew it. With large tablets and attachable keyboards, who would still want a PC? Or is a tablet a PC?
I’m always welcome to feedback as I know there are lots of differing opinions out there, and I enjoy hearing them. Otherwise, see you next January.