But for me, the thing that stuck out most at this CES was an exchange I had with another member of the media after Panasonic’s whirlwind press conference (with a surprise cameo from Justin Timberlake). My friend emerged from the scrum of press and analysts swarming the stage in the post-event mob, greeted me, and asked, “Did they show any TVs?”
I had to think. “Uh….” Then I remembered there was a brief mention. “Yeah, but they spent two minutes on them, tops.”
To be clear, there were certainly TVs in Panasonic’s presentation, but in terms of specifying the models and features — a staple of CES press conferences of yore — there was just a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it acknowledgement. Panasonic only really talked about the television in the context of larger ideas, like its eco initiatives and SmartViera connected-TV tech.
It was a telling omission, and it wasn’t the only one. All over CES 2012 I saw a shifting of focus from hyping technological achievements (Double battery life! Better color! More processing power!) to painting a picture of what those devices really offer, or more specifically, what they connect you with.
Various companies, particularly Intel, were in a hurry to debunk the so-called myth of consumption. That is, the idea that consumers just want to, well, consume — that they’re mere cattle using today’s tech to seek out and passively “graze” on content — is a fallacy, they say. Today’s digital customers want to create, connect and interact as well.
While that assertion feels spot-on, the raw technology can still impress. That big OLED TV from LG looks gorgeous. Parrot’s Zik headphones are an remarkable piece of design. And those Ultrabooks? Hot.
There’s no question there was some great gear on display in Las Vegas this week, but I think most would agree that the new technology they bring to the table is evolutionary, not revolutionary. Whether a TV gives you 1 million colors or 4 million, or whether a phone runs at 1.2GHz or 1.5GHz doesn’t really matter all that much to consumers. Even the lower specs are good enough for the vast majority of people.
Besides that, to focus on specs and performance is to miss the larger trend, the one that’s really important. Consumers increasingly want their experience with tech to be social. A fitness gadget, for example, isn’t just about working out — it’s about setting goals, working toward them, sharing your progress with friends and doing it all in a way that makes you feel good about yourself.
This new way of thinking is much more than just adding Wi-Fi or integrating Twitter’s API into a product. It’s a paradigm shift for consumer electronics, and the companies that succeed are the ones who don’t focus on simply building the best TV, phone or gadget. It’s the ones who focus on the overall experience, on what they’re offering that will keep customers coming back, possibly bringing a few friends with them.
Take this one random statistic that flies in the face of conventional wisdom: When online streaming and downloading is factored in, consumers are actually watching more TV over the past few years, according to Nielsen. And this is over a time that’s seen the rise of social networks, casual games and a host of other distractions that should theoretically be keeping people from getting around to catching up on The Big Bang Theory. Why is this happening?
The answer, of course, is that these new services compete for a person’s time to a point, but they also complement the TV experience. Chatter on Twitter and Facebook can sometimes get an audience more excited about a show, or a product, than traditional marketing ever could. Would Glee be as big a hit if it weren’t for the nonstop social-media buzz around it? Could Dr. Dre’s Beats headphones have been as successful with just word of mouth?
It’s not so much a trend as a reality: consumer electronics must go social to stay relevant. That reality was all over CES 2012 in many ways — the proliferation of wireless technology, the widespread integration with mobile devices, the creation of novel apps. Even the move toward more green technology and power efficiency is a kind of social trend, one where consumers seek to connect to their world by making it better in a small but measurable way.
But those trends are just step one. The companies that will be most successful capitalizing on them are the ones who merge all of them into an overall experience: one that’s social, open and empowering. I don’t know if Sony, Intel or Justin Timberlake will come out on top, but to find out who’s winning, just check Twitter.
The XO 3.0 tablet includes the Marvell ARMADA PXA618 SOC processor, Avastar Wi-Fi SOC, standard or Pixel Qi sunlight-readable display, and supports Android and Linux operating systems. Unlike any other tablet on the market, it can be powered by solar energy, other alternative energy sources and even hand-cranks.
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