The Consumer Electronics Show, long known as the place to glimpse the latest gadgets and gizmos, has evolved into so much more – it’s now a showcase of trends that will drive human behavior. For this, and many other reasons, the week-long extravaganza in Las Vegas should be of keen interest to market researchers.

Many of the products that debuted here during the second week of January won’t be widely available for several months or even years, but they are harbingers of what will someday be in our homes, offices, vehicles, restaurants and hotels. In the vast hallways of CES, market researchers can envision how consumers will use and interact with these new products; understand the data they will generate; and consider ways they can engage people via screens or automated voices as they strive to fill gaps in consumption data by determining “why” specific actions are taken.

Researchers and analysts also get to see first-hand the challenges that brands are facing – how can they, for example, effectively differentiate their connected home products from among hundreds demonstrated nearby by deep-pocketed competitors?

There’s certainly much to see at CES – some would say it’s overwhelming. Making it more manageable, time- and cost-efficient and focused on insights generation was the motivation behind the first-ever Insights Association CES Excursion, an experience we enjoyed with a limited number of members.  

If you’re interested in joining us at CES 2019 contact us now – availability is limited.

Our group witnessed plenty of the “Wow!” – like Samsung's 146-inch 4K "The Wall" TV, LG’s 65-inch OLED screen, which rolls like a window shade into its rectangular base when not in use, and Fisker’s luxury EMotion electric sedan – watch out Tesla when it hits the road in 2020. We saw a robot play ping pong with attendees and another challenge the North American Scrabble Champ (good news, humans, our own Will Anderson won three straight). The focus, however, was identifying and dissecting trends and products with more behavior-shifting potential, and devices that may help researchers collect new data in different ways.

“When I meet with my clients I'm always listening for something that connects with the latest trends,” noted Tim Hoskins, president of Quester, who helped lead tours on the show floor. “After attending CES last year, we added a level of questions to clients about some of the trends we observed. The answers to those questions help us connect many dots for them. And it helps us to be looked at as thought leaders, trend identifiers.” 

Here are some of the key trends our group noted during our time at CES: 

Biometrics

Apparel maker SUPA is among the companies incorporating the tiny but powerful Movesense sensor.

The fixation with tracking our daily movements brought on by the likes of FitBit continues with more sophistication and interconnectivity, resulting in still more data on how we spend our hours awake and asleep.

Products gaining attention here included the Movesense sensor from Finland, which within a mere 1.44-inch diameter and 0.35 ounces, combines an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, temperature sensor, heart rate, and ECG sensor that can be integrated into a device or clothing, as offered by companies like SUPA. L’Oréal’s tiny UV Sense, which fits on your fingernail and can track UV, pollen, humidity, temperature, and air quality levels. Pairing with a smartphone app, it can remind you to apply sunscreen. Siren smart diabetic socks, which monitor foot temperature and proactively help stave off foot ulcers.

Promoting relaxation and sleep via neuroscience also drew significant attention. NuCalm, a neuroscience-based, drug-free relaxation technology has become a favorite of professional athletes by inducing 20-minute naps. My Brain Technologies’ Melomind is a headphone with “non-intrusive” sensors that measure brain activity and learns your activity patterns over time to customize a deep relaxation experience with sound.

Biometrics also play a role in new facial recognition tech featured in some new vehicles.  Knowing that it is you behind the wheel and not your spouse, your vehicle will customize the experience – seat and mirror position, for example – accordingly. There’s also a security benefit as the car won’t operate if an unknown person tries to drive.

For you neuroscientists out there, Looxid Labs’ VR headset with eye tracking cameras and brainwave sensors was an award winner.  

“The technology that will continue to alter the way insights are gained is the evolution of biometric, eye movement, and neurological measurement,” commented Brett Townsend, Head of North America Insights at Electrolux, who attended the CES Excursion. “The advancement in these technologies for the automotive industry will generate so much data on how humans make decisions that we can utilize to better understand human behavior. And these technologies will undoubtedly quickly make their way into our industry.”

Aside from the data generated via these biometric devices, insights professionals may consider how being more aware – in some cases hyper-aware or even obsessed – with tracking nutrition, exercise and sleep will change a person’s perspectives on products and experiences. Using these products can influence consumer lifestyles, self-awareness, mood, energy, and, subsequently, priorities and decision making. They empower people to be more proactive about their health and they are more informed about their body functioning when they meet with physicians and physical therapists. 

Augmented Reality

The Teslasuit makes AR a full-body experience.

Augmented Reality (AR), which overlays digital content onto the real-world environment via special eyeglasses or a smartphone's display and camera, was a star market segment here.

“I was most impressed with the augmented reality demonstrations,” commented Frank Mezler, Vice President at Moore Research Services, and another CES Excursion attendee. “I don’t mean just putting a dinosaur next to someone as you look through glasses. I’m talking about real applications where you type in midair and access your files and folders simply by moving your hands. If anyone remembers the 1994 movie “Disclosure” with Demi Moore and Michael Douglas, that’s the kind of augmented reality we saw here.”

Steve Koenig, senior director of research for the Consumer Technology Association, which owns and produces CES, declared on the exhibition’s first day, “This is the year that AR eclipses VR and AR apps on smartphones are driving it.” Mobile and in-store AR will continue to redefine the shopping experience, especially with the rise of high-speed 5G networks, he said. “What is reality? It’s an open question,” Koenig says. “Augmented reality will be the preference because it's awesome!”

The augmented reality marketplace at CES grew by 10% this year to a record 10,900 net square feet. AR got a boost last fall when Apple added AR sensors and capabilities into its latest iPhones. The company said nearly 2,000 game, social media, education and shopping apps have now been developed using its AR Kit software tools.

Google also released an AR software development kit for its platforms, while Microsoft has pushed its Windows Mixed Reality based on technology developed for its Hololens, which also is supported by mixed-reality headsets from HP, Dell, Acer, and Samsung.  Other notable debuts on the hardware side were headsets like Magic Leap’s Leap One and, extending to the entire body, Teslasuit, the world’s first full-body haptic feedback, motion capture, thermos-controlled suit.

Among the other AR applications garnering accolades here was Snaappy, which seeks to provide users with innovative ways to experience their surroundings and express their emotions by creating their own 3-D videos and photos with supporting text.

VR is not going away, but will advance on its own track diverging further away from AR with more “wholly immersive experience” content from Hollywood and produced more affordably by small businesses and consumers with new cameras like Vuze with 360-degree 3-D capability and watched on headsets like Pico Interactive’s new Eagle, a lightweight mobile headset featuring over-ear, noise-cancelling headphones and a high-definition OLED display band. Capabilities continue to expand for retailers, college campuses, realtors, hotels, restaurants and the market researchers that serve these industries through more advanced interactive experiences created on evolving platforms like YouVisit.

AI & the Connected Life

Among the robots spotlighted were Buddy and the smart, personable and witty Sophia.

The success of voice assistants (especially the Amazon Echo Dot, Christmas 2017’s highest-selling product) clearly indicates acceptance and interest in functional tech, as opposed to tech for merely entertainment.

Among the most common buzzwords at CES was “Ecosystems”. Hundreds of devices in scores of booths touted usability with Alexa and Google Home. Samsung made its bid to connect everything in your home and car, through a multitude of new devices and programs, including Bixby, which enables your smartphone to scan foods for diet tracking and accept voice commands to instruct multiple IoT devices such as its refrigerator and oven.

New Smart Mirrors, such as Kohler’s, among the products included in the CES “Best of” Showcase, sported motion-detection night lights and connectivity with Alexa. If you want your mirror to tell you need more sleep and should purchase concealer for the dark circles under your eyes, look into the HiMirror Mini with auto skin analysis.

Companies working with Google Home and Alexa are taking the virtual assistant experience to the next level. Receiving high marks was the Lenovo Smart Display with Google Assistant, a tablet that serves as smart-home hub. It can turn on the lights, get the coffee brewing, read your daily schedule, give you traffic and weather reports, wake the kids, and remind you to feed the dog. You can also use it for video-calls or to watch the morning news while you eat breakfast. The more user-friendly, full-featured home base also carries such privacy features as speaker/microphone mute and camera lens cover.

“As more and more devices become connected to IoT, it opens entirely new ways of gathering information as consumers interact with non-traditional communication devices,” noted Moore Research’s Mezler. “Since more data will be collected about their likes/dislikes/preferences, consumers can expect a future that is tailored to their personal preferences more so than ever before. The days of seeing the same commercial as everyone else are probably coming to an end.”

“We are moving from conversations to relationships with our Digital Assistants” 

As the likes of Alexa and Google Home learn more about us, they will become more intuitive, helpful and consultative. The stilted, formal cadence of Alexa will vanish; the incorrect responses less frequent. The devices will even be able to explain how they arrived at their answers or suggestions.

The first household robots, most famously Roomba, were task-focused. The devices have progressed to providing assistance and companionship. The latest examples shown here were Kuri and Blue Frog Robotics' Buddy, a voice-controlled robot that will hit store shelves in September at $1,500. Yet in appearance, these models remain diminutive and toy like.

Humanoid robots like Sophia from Hanson Robotics, which took its first steps recently, are an entirely different class. Casually blinking her eyes and smiling during appropriate pauses in her speech, Sophia appears strikingly real. She can recognize people and through increasingly sophisticated AI software, learns from conversational and emotional data to build relationships with people. Her creator, David Hanson, sees applications for mental health and elder care, beginning with positive personal reinforcement to help with autism and depression. Market researchers may envision her offspring conducting in-person surveys or moderating focus groups.

“Like it or not, Artificial Intelligence is here and it’s only getting bigger and more accurate,” Mezler commented. “While some people say this could be the end of market research companies, who is to say our industry just doesn’t embrace the new technology and instead use it to enhance and speed up services we already provide?”

What will speed IoT going forward is interoperability and standardization of connected devices – which devices will connect and “talk to” other devices – something the manufacturers of devices in a number of industries are currently working through.

According to Koenig, AI and machine learning will aid marketers and brands to better understand, and even predict, the wants and needs for their customers and voice will become a preferred human-machine interface. “Expect voice to join stores, online, and mobile as that fourth sales channel,” he declared. Hospitality companies like Hilton and Marriott are already developing hotel rooms powered by the Internet of Things. The bridging of the home and outer world has begun – good news for business travelers, but something that may not be welcomed by leisure travelers seeking an escape.

Autonomous Vehicles

CES attendees up for a "driverless" ride from Lyft went in style in BMW 5-Series sedans.

As GM, Ford and Toyota showcased their latest automated technologies in nearby booths and Lyft offered CES attendees rides across the city in their autonomous vehicles, industry experts acknowledged that driverless autos are something only half of Americans want to see. The other half, they noted, are worried about many things, namely: safety, security, reliability and cost. 

“Convincing half of the population sounds like an enormous challenge, but once people try it things will move fast,” asserted Michael Ableson, VP Global Strategy at General Motors. 

Ninety percent of auto crashes result from human error, he noted. Taking that element out will considerably speed public acceptance. Automatic detection systems are rapidly improving and have already proven to drastically reduce accidents in human-piloted vehicles. And these driver assistance systems will become more assertive as we await the proliferation of autonomous vehicles. 

With government approval to test on public roads (Google is now testing driverless share rides in Scottsdale, AZ) the technology is advancing quickly. It even has a term: Mobility as a Service, or MaaS. At CES, Toyota was among the first carmakers to announce plans to supply a base vehicle for other companies’ MaaS and delivery operations and already has enlisted Amazon, Uber, Pizza Hut and Didi, China’s ride-hailing giant, as partners. GM is targeting 2019 for the start of production of autonomous vehicles. Rideshare usage would enable them to monetize the initiative, they said. 

These developments will cause a shift in the marketplace. Now most of us either buy or lease our vehicles, but what is becoming more popular is a subscription model. Cox Flex Drive has offered this as an option to move away from ownership to usage and now car companies, including Mercedes and Volvo, are testing the concept. 

If the vast majority of share rides become autonomous, who fuels, cleans and maintains the vehicles? Fleet management stands to grow as an industry as large lots with charging stations and automated car washes will serve as the overnight homes of Uber and Lyft vehicles.

Powering the Next Stage of Innovation: 5G Networks
Considering 4G empowered the most recent advancements of many of the technologies mentioned here, pending 5G networks has innovation teams surging ahead with aggressive plans. “Early 5G networks will sit alongside existing 4G to render a feeling of almost unlimited bandwidth on mobile devices,” said Koenig. “Maybe that will happen later this year, maybe in 2019, building up to 2020 when we will have the first standalone 5G networks.” Koenig noted how 4G LTE enabled services such as Lyft, Uber, and Airbnb. This increase in bandwidth will make it easier for augmented reality and other services to be used by consumers in travel, meetings and events, and other industries.

Below the Surface
Swirling below the “Wow, this is amazing!” vibe was an undercurrent of: “Yikes, they’re going to track that and know all of this about me?” Data security and privacy issues arose often during sessions at the CES Research Summit, which the Insights Association co-sponsored along with Deloitte, NPD, GfK, Autotrader and AIG.

It was the topic when Acting FTC Chair Maureen Ohlhausen took the stage. While she disclosed nothing new, her presence on the agenda was itself acknowledgement that manufacturers must work with regulators to stay in bounds as they race downfield. She explained that her agency is supportive of these new technologies, but that consumers’ privacy concerns are placed above all others and companies must show they are properly testing new products, updating and patching those in market, and communicating potential risks with consumers.

Referring to “a very robust enforcement action” a day prior against an IoT toy company for violating COPPA, she noted that her agency is working in conjunction with the FDA on IoT and health apps to address privacy concerns.

Indeed, the surge in connectivity brings with it some complex data control and privacy issues. They were addressed here by Shelly Palmer, CEO of The Palmer Group, a strategic technology advisory practice, who believes that everything that can be connected will be connected. This means that every physical product can and will have a digital twin, according to Palmer. For this to happen, connected physical “things” and their digital twins must be specifically and uniquely identified – giving rise to hybrid identity that bridges a physical product with its digital instance. This will create an incredible amount of data, and it should fuel demand for decentralized data schemas (such as distributed ledgers) and accelerate consumer desire to control what can be fed back to central authorities or third parties. Can we achieve ubiquitous, real-time digital identity delivered in standard and interoperable ways? Palmer asks. Should we? Is there a way to protect identity but still identify everything?

In an article about CES for Wired, David Pierce noted similar issues. “We’re hoping at least a few companies are ready to look at the ethics of AI and to think through the biases of their algorithms and what that means for their world…Ready to talk honestly about what they're doing with user data, and ready to help people understand the tradeoffs…The tech-buying public is no longer interested only in the newest, thinnest, and fastest. They're beginning to ask important, overdue questions. Questions about what these gadgets are doing to our brains, our attention spans, and our understanding of the world we live in. About what it means for their washing machine to collect and store personal data, and how much data they should be comfortable with. About whether we've been using tech all this time, or letting tech use us.”

In addition to witnessing the latest products up close, our CES Excursion provided the opportunity on the show floor and during lunches, dinners and cocktails for researchers to chat about what these advances mean for our daily lives, the privacy concerns at play, and how it all may impact their work and their clients’ business.

One realization was that several of the tech trends noted here intermingle and form overarching themes. For example, the latest AI, robotics, and biometrics enable the average wage earner to experience some elite-level services. “The sleep system we experienced and the biofeedback devices we tested are technologies previously available only to elite athletes,” Tim Hoskins noted. “The home system we saw from Vivint, which allowed you to safely receive packages in your house, set alarms and control temperature remotely, is like having a butler and security guard.”

What will be unveiled next year? We’re not sure, but there are certain to be many jaw-dropping, eye-popping, thought-provoking innovations. Will you be there to see them and discuss the implications with us?

“I think anyone in Market Research would benefit from attending CES because when it comes right down to it, this is the technology consumers and our clients are going to be using; the things that will change the way we interact with our world and those around us,” Moore’s Mezler observed. “The more willing you are to embrace and use these new technologies to enhance your company and services, the better off you will be in the long run.”  

Added Electrolux’s Townsend, “Seeing how consumers’ lives will potentially look in the future is always beneficial because it helps us get a glimpse at potential behavioral changes that will fuel consumers’ purchase decisions. How they will purchase and interact with our products helps us see how we can start preparing for those changes and start making incremental changes to our business.”

CES 2019 will take place January 8-11. If you’re interested in joining us on our next insights-focused excursion, contact us now.