Which ‘Consumer Electronics’ are stealing the ‘Show?’

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For the first time, ClickZ is at the Consumer Electronics Show, checking out the various innovations and reporting about the ones that matter most to marketers.

Greetings from Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada! CES unofficially kicks off today and I’ll be here through Thursday night, walking around the expo hall; sitting in on some of the sessions and keynotes, such as the one tomorrow with Netflix chief executive (CEO) Reed Hastings; visiting Zappos’ headquarters; and going to a Drone Rodeo out in the desert. I don’t 100 percent know what a Drone Rodeo is, but it sounds cool, right?

In the meantime, here are some of the big themes of this year’s CES:

The next stage of VR

We’ve covered virtual reality (VR) quite a bit lately and we’ll be doing it some more, as VR is arguably the hottest topic at this year’s show. Companies will be debuting things like 360-degree VR cameras and mobile game apps, and platforms that allow consumers to create their own experiences. Additionally, VR will be the subject of more than a dozen conference sessions, including one by Mary Lou Jepsen, the former Googler who now heads up Oculus at Facebook.

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It makes sense, given that 2016 will see the release of VR products by Sony and Microsoft, as well as Facebook’s long-awaited Oculus Rift. But what makes VR such a big topic isn’t so much that it’s new and cool. It’s out of the novelty stage and brands are beginning to use it for purposes beyond simply creating experiences.

One of VR’s earliest appearances on this website this year was back in March, when Mountain Dew utilized the technology to let people attending the Burton US Snowboarding Championships to snowboard with the pros. Just nine months later, we published a piece about some of its more practical uses for marketers, such as real estate companies using it for 3D mapping.

The Internet of Things will have a lot more things

“Wearables” – the International Data Corporation anticipates 111 million will be shipped this year, up 44 percent from 2015 – is often seen as synonymous with the Internet of Things (IoT) and there will certainly be a lot of them at CES. Countless companies are debuting things like smartwatches and glasses, and Samsung will be there with a smart belt that tracks your movements (or lack thereof) and eating habits.

But connectivity goes so much further than wearables. Other smart technology on display includes everything from an interactive child’s toothbrush to a kitchen screen complete with entertainment, surveillance and voice search capabilities. As the IoT expands to include more items, there are more opportunities for marketers to capitalize on them. Surely brands like KitchenAid and Kraft – and maybe even Pinterest? – would be all over that smart kitchen.

One B2C vertical in particular that will be embracing smart technology at CES is automotive. Some of the conference sessions include “The Battle of the Automotive User Interface” and “What Drives the Self-Driving Car Business?” The latter will be the focus of the Vehicle Intelligence Marketplace, where brands like Kia and Ford will show off the technology that make it possible. CEOs from General Motors and Volkswagen, both of which have electric vehicles to introduce, will also be delivering two of the conference’s keynotes.

A deluge of drones

Just before Christmas, I pondered whether drones are the next big thing in marketing. My inspiration for that article came from my inbox, which over the last few weeks, has been an avalanche of invites to product demos. Many of those have been drone-related.

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A company called ONAGOfly will be demonstrating its palm-sized drone camera that can connect with a consumer’s smartphone via GPS technology. PolarPro, which started out manufacturing GoPro lens filters and recently landed a $1 million on ABC’s Shark Tank, will be debuting all kinds of drone accessories, including a tail light for flying in the dark.

Brands have already started incorporating drones into their marketing beyond just aerial photography. And of course, Amazon plans on incorporating them into its delivery plans. All of this points to the notion that while drones aren’t quite there with VR yet, they’re starting to transition from novelty products to having more real-world uses.

There is still somewhat of a novelty factor, though. Remember: Drone Rodeo.

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