Jon Bibo represented ICBA at the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Jon shares his observations on what's up and coming in technology, and how college stores can benefit.
CES 2019 marked my 28th consecutive year attending this “little” get-together of technology, electronics, lifestyle, innovation, deal-making, and semi-controlled chaos. 180,000 attendees and 4,500 exhibitors representing 160+ countries make CES the center of the technology universe each January. No fewer than 1,200 start-ups exhibited in an area called Eureka Park. Part of a productive CES experience is managing the sheer enormity of it all: 8-10 miles of walking per day across 2.9 million square feet of exhibit space, dealing with 75-minute taxi lines, over-priced hotels, over-priced parking, private parties that close down the restaurant you wanted to dine in, dodging self-driving vehicles, dodging traditional human-driven vehicles, etc.
While CES has always been the place to marvel at big, hi-resolution TVs and gadgets galore, it has clearly evolved over the last 4-5 years into a showcase of how technology is being fully integrated into our everyday lives (at work, at home, at school, and everything in between). You can’t find a manufacturer that doesn’t refer to themselves as a tech company. Don’t call Ford a car company, they now call themselves a technology company. Don’t call Welt a belt manufacturer, they are now a technology company. Proctor & Gamble calls themselves a tech company…so does Under Armour and Serta and Philips and Razor and Kohler and John Deere…
Here’s a listing of featured CES Product Categories & Marketplaces, to give you a sense of how the multiple exhibit halls are arranged:
- 3D Printing
- Advertising, Marketing, Content and Entertainment
- AR/VR and Gaming
- Artificial Intelligence and Robotics
- Audio and Video
- Baby Tech
- CES Sports Zone
- Country Pavilions
- Design & Source Showcase
- Digital Money
- Enterprise Solutions
- Eureka Park
- Family and Kids Tech
- Health and Wellness
- High-Tech Retailing
- Home Cinema
- IoT Infrastructure
- Self-Driving Technology
- Sleep Tech
- Smart Cities
- Smart Home
- Sports Tech
- Vehicle Technology
- Wireless Devices and Services
In terms of lingo one must master to be one of the “cool kids” at CES, everything must be “SMART,” as in: Smart Cities, Smart Cars, Smart Pillows, Smart Belts, Smart Drones, Smart Blenders, Smart Diapers, Smart Shoes, Smart Roads, Smart Guitars, Smart Homes, Smart Glasses, Smart Pajamas, etc. What this really refers to is the wireless interconnectivity of devices and the benefits that ensue when devices/objects/things “speak” to each other. Many of you may be familiar with the phrase, “Internet of Things,” or IoT. This concept emerged at CES a few years ago and is still prevalent, but the “SMART” word seems to work better for us common folk and is easier to comprehend.
This year, some of the highlights included:
- 5G: while still not ready for the masses, 2019 will be a year when you’ll hear all about this much faster network (replacing the 4G that we all use today) that seems like it will be a game-changer in terms of data transfer speeds and capability for smart devices to “talk” to each other. Look for AT&T and Verizon to be out earlier than others with 5G networks and phones (tests are already launching in select geographies).
- 8K Ultra HD TVs do look incredible…especially when you walk into the LG booth and are surrounded by hundreds of beautiful lanterns and then see an 88” OLED 8K or the 200+” SAMSUNG TV called “The Wall!”
- Artificial Intelligence (AI): Sometimes, CES has a way of making new concepts that debut one year, very common a few years later. AI is one of those concepts. Originally, it was hard to comprehend, but now, most people seem to have a general understanding of AI’s promise and utility. Virtually all “SMART” devices are using AI to some degree to process data and “predict” what can or should happen next.
- Autonomous Vehicles: “Hi Honey, I’m going to take the drone-copter over to Mike’s house to watch the 3D hologram of the basketball game.” Self-driving cars, scooters, motorcycles, and yes, personal drone-copters were everywhere at CES.
- Get ready to yell, from 200 feet in the air, “Geez, get out of my pod lane and learn how to program that drone-copter!”
- Over 170 exhibitors focused on cars and autonomous vehicle tech, including all of the major car companies: Mercedes, Toyota, Hyundai, Chevy, Ford, Nissan, etc.
- Athletic/Fitness Tech: part of the show looked like a futuristic health club with everything from stationary bikes, to golf driving ranges, to batting cages, to weightlifting, to boxing…all with a tech flair to provide users with more precise data and feedback than ever before.
- In terms of selling opportunities for college stores, it’s clear that gaming and eSports should be evaluated. Professional eSports “athletes” and teams are making real money and drawing massive crowds. This is an area to be explored in terms of hardware and accessories! It may also be a chance for your store to get involved to build good will and store traffic. A good resource is the National Association of Collegiate eSports (nacesports.org). Many ICBA Vendor Partners are familiar with this growing sales opportunity, so engage in conversation with them.
- For college stores, I am sorry to say that really nothing else blew me away and screamed “opportunity!” The South Hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center is full of accessory and peripheral exhibitors, and there was plenty to see in terms of new styles and designs for traditional accessory products. Dell and Lenovo showed off new, sleek hardware designs. Overall, however, I simply didn’t see many other new/innovative products that can really move the needle in terms of driving top line sales.
Here are some other resources to help you get a broad sense of what was buzzworthy at CES:
- https://www.ces.tech/ (This is the main CES web site with lots of good info.)
- https://www.ces.tech/Conference/Keynote-Addresses.aspx (All of the major CES keynote addresses can be viewed here.)
Each year at CES, 85% of me gets excited about how tech can impact lives and our world in a positive way, and 15% of me gets a little scared that the T1000 in the Terminator 2 movie is going to win in the end because powerful tech might ultimately get into the wrong hands or, worse yet, the tech devices think better and faster than us flawed humans. This year, concerns about data privacy were a major focus as were safety issues when giving more and more control to autonomous vehicles or smart medical devices, etc. I think it’s healthy and proper to be cautious, but to also embrace new technology, both as college store retailers, and as people living day-to-day! And don't forget -- Elvis is King!