CES 2011 Highlights

CES 2011 felt like one of the biggest in years, at least in terms of attendees. I haven’t heard the official figure yet, but if cab and monorail lines are any indication, the economy is showing positive signs of life.

As always, there was a lot of interesting stuff on the floor. But I’ll focus on two key trends that have significant implications for marketers.


Not that long ago all the hype was on netbooks. During his iPad launch keynote in early 2010, Apple CEO Steve Jobs took a few jabs at the diminutive category of computers, suggesting they aren’t good at anything. There wasn’t much in the way of netbooks this year, but tablets certainly were everywhere. CNET chose Motorola’s Xoom as best in show for 2011, but Moto wasn’t alone in entering the Android tab fray. BlackBerry’s tablet entry, the Playbook, also made its first appearance to massive crowds – and it stood apart from most other players simply because it’s not built on Android, but rather on BlackBerry’s operating system.

Moto also launched one of the most interesting new phones. The Atrix is a pretty standard-looking Android phone, with the usual large touch screen dominating the front face. But it does so much more. It plugs into a laptop shell to afford the user a full keyboard and larger screen. Moto is also making docks for other devices like TVs. The Atrix can output full 1080p video via its doc, making it an impressive machine for both productivity and entertainment.

For marketers, these advances mean new use cases, and we’ll see continued change and growth there in the coming year. Last year, several sources released data suggesting that upwards of 40 percent of time spent on the mobile Internet happens at home. Obviously, this means that people are beginning to choose mobile devices over the PC. And as tablet competition drives lower pricing and differentiated features, we’ll see even more radical shifts in how people use mobile devices.

The other immediate concern is for marketers who are active in applications, whether developing their own or sponsoring third-party apps. The Android app ecosystem already presents challenges because of different screen sizes, software versions, and more. As the operating system expands to innumerable tablet devices and to TVs via Atrix and the like, there are new possibilities for app functionality and technical glitches driven by screen variation.

Connected TV

This isn’t new, but OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) are getting more sophisticated with their approaches. Samsung and LG were pushing their own versions of “SmartTV,” both ripe with basic applications meant to enhance the TV viewing experience and keep the viewer connected. It will be really interesting to see how manufacturers and developers bring social functionality to the big screen. Facebook and Twitter are already there, but that’s only the beginning.

An early player in the space – Yahoo, with its TV Widget platform – announced some really interesting new functionality. Two key enhancements will roll out in the second half of 2011:

1. Broadcast triggers. Yahoo’s platform will be able to recognize programming. This means that content producers could develop interactive widget experiences that sync with what’s currently happening during the program. It also means that advertisers can add an interactive call-to-action to their existing spots – that could further launch into a branded widget to deliver additional content and information.

2. Mobile integration. Yahoo is developing an app that will be able to talk to the widgets on TV via Wi-Fi. It will enable some control and provide a full QWERTY keyboard. Most interestingly, it will mean an advertiser or content producer will be able to push interactive content not just via TV, but also immediately to the phone. So, for example, imagine watching a spot, and responding to the on-screen call to action. Your video window shrinks to give space to your widget. You begin browsing the interactive content, but then your program returns and you want to watch it full screen. No problem – simply send the interactive experience down to your phone and continue your exploration. This creates some interesting opportunities for TV marketers. As other platforms build similar capabilities and the space gains scale, however, it’s yet another complication that will further mess with the TV advertising business model.

Here’s a quick rundown of other interesting trends from CES:

• Home automation and connected appliances continue to be a focus. Smart energy monitoring and connectivity will help people manage their homes in new ways.

• Designer 3D glasses, both passive and active. Neat, if a bit impractical.

• Connected cars. Ford Sync continues to innovate and Hyundai was showing a very cool demo of an augmented-reality interface that’s projected onto the windshield as you’re driving.

• Specialized touch screen devices. Mobile devices are currently driving the ubiquitous computing revolution, but as the costs for touch screen and other computing components continue to come down, we’re already seeing the development of some specialized devices like the Sony Dash and the Demy Digital Recipe Reader.

Five days in Vegas is plenty. But there’s so much energy and innovation that it’s hard not to look forward to 2012 already. The pace of change continues to accelerate, so take comfort in knowing it’ll be here before we know it.

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