Jon Bibo represented ICBA at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). He shares insights on what's up and coming in technology, and how college stores can benefit.

Another CES is in the rearview mirror (of a self-driving car!). This was my 28th straight year of attending CES, so I’ve learned to navigate the circus that is 180,000 attendees (from 160 countries), 4,400 exhibitors, and 2.8 million square feet of exhibit space. Working CES efficiently is part of the challenge, or part of the fun, since it’s part trade show, part conference, part athletic event, and part logistics and obstacle course. It really is a mix of how technology will alter/enhance how we go about our personal and professional activities, but also how communities, cities, and society itself will change based on the tremendous opportunities that technology promises. Can technology bring us closer together and be more connected, or will it cause us to be more isolated? Samsung called it the “Age of Experiences,” and I can’t argue with that!

This chart shows the categories and areas of emphasis for the massive show floor:

For me, CES offers a glimpse of what may become commonplace in the next 3-5 years. It doesn’t always work that way (3D monitors that did not require special glasses were hot 3 years ago, but were nowhere to be found this year). On the other hand, robots that started to be shown at CES 3 years ago will soon permeate our society. And don’t get me started on the personal use drones that started appearing at CES 7-8 years ago.

This famous quote from Bill Gates of Microsoft sums up my experience with new tech shown at CES:

“We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don't let yourself be lulled into inaction.”

-- Bill Gates

The Consumer Technology Association, which produces CES, published a fascinating list of CES milestones between 1967 and 2017. Perusing this list will highlight how something that debuts at CES often becomes part of our daily lives.

Let’s hit on some of what I felt were the main areas of emphasis at CES.

  • Robots
    • The transition of robots being used purely in manufacturing settings to those which will interact with us in our daily lives is underway. From robotic bartenders to what were referred to as “digital life companions,” get ready for more and more ways that technology devices will be providing active, not just passive assistance. Get ready for your digital buddy to say, “Jon, this is V-RA 82, your digital life companion. I noticed that your floor needs to be cleaned, so I took the liberty of activating CD 9000, your robotic vacuum, to make sure your floors are spic and span. I also lowered the temperature for you, since it’s 4.9 degrees warmer than was forecasted this morning. Then I ordered fresh milk, since the milk you have in your refrigerator is, shall we say, nasty!”
  • 5G
    • 5G (super-fast mobile networks) was mentioned in a huge number of booths, but I still get the feeling that 2021, and not 2020, will be the year that we all begin to experience 5G.
  • Self-driving cars
    • One of the main convention center halls is dedicated to cars and automobile manufacturers. The big debate, relative to autonomous vehicles, is whether or not it makes sense to expand testing of autonomous vehicles, even if it means there are occasional accidents, in the name of long-term safety. The argument is that self-driving cars will ultimately be much safer than human-driven cars, so limiting testing ultimately puts more people at risk than aggressively testing them now (with the understanding that there will be a limited number of mishaps that may result in severe injuries or even death). It is a complex argument, for sure.
  • Personal drones
    • Get ready to see your neighbor soaring above your pool party—although not for a couple more years. Personal drones or copters were shown in multiple booths, so having people flying above our heads could have all kinds of good and bad ramifications.
  • TV wars: 8k TVs
    • Ever year at CES, giant, beautiful TVs cause booth traffic jams. This year the 8K OLED TVs were all the rage. To be honest, the TVs shown at CES 5 years ago looked fantastic, the TVs 3 years ago looked fantastic, and this year’s TVs looked fantastic. I just don’t know how much better the 8K TVs are vs. the TVs shown over the last few years. Again, they all look great, and watching a rose bloom in 8K is an emotional experience, but is it worth $2,500 compared to the TVs that are on the market today for $400? I just don’t see it.
  • Health/Wellness
    • There are VERY exciting developments with technology and health/wellness. Wearable devices are now able to track much more than steps and heart rate. The possibilities in this area seem like they truly can improve people’s lives—saving them time and money, and also making them safer.
  • eSports & Sports Technology
    • I believe this represents one of the bigger technology opportunities for college stores. From working with campus teams/clubs, to selling premium quality gaming hardware and accessories that gamers demand, to conducting tournaments that attract massive crowds, eSports will be an area of focus for ICBA, and we think it should be an area of focus for all college stores.
  • Folding Phones
    • Flexible, foldable, and bendable displays that are paper thin will be part of our lives within 2-3 years. Within 5 years, we will laugh at how we all used to have rigid and inflexible digital displays.

To get a sense of CES, here are some resources to review:

See ya’ next year at CES!