As CES 2021 is just beginning with Monday’s Press Day, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the virtual event.
Would it purely resemble a Zoom or Microsoft Teams appointment?
Would there be that presentation sizzle we have grown to expect from the big brands who are participating?
Would I miss the endless cab lines?
I’m here to tell you at first blush that the Consumer Technology Association has done a great job in keeping with the show biz vibe.
Additionally, the big brands as expected have invested in the look and sizzle of their press conferences and keynotes as well.
Let’s agree we don’t miss the cab lines for sure although I do miss the random connections you make while in the que.
To give us more perspective on what to look forward to I called upon my friend Ben Arnold/Industry Analyst from the NPD Group.
A few years back I was privileged to interview Ben at the Radio Ink Forecast Event and his wisdom is much appreciated!
BK: What are the key central themes you expect to come out of CES 2021?
BA :I think we will see a lot around 5G. Over the last 3 years at CES, 5G has been a story, but mostly around infrastructure and explaining the technology- “what will this new technology do once it gets here”. This year we have several major 5G phones already in the market, so I think the conversation will transaction to applications and what consumers can do with 5G. That’s exciting- to have more actual product demonstrations of what 5G can do.
Given the year we have been through, I also believe we will see technology that is a product of our current situation. Health and wellness will take centerstage this year in a way we have not seen. Solutions for keeping people safely at a distance (maybe via smartphone apps) or allowing them to see doctors remotely from the comfort of the home. Lastly, I think automotive and autonomous mobility will be another big story this year (as it is each year) for a related reasons- that this idea of movement and commuting has totally changed for people- and how might that change the way we think about autonomous vehicles.
BK: For an event that is so sensory, how will CTA pull off a virtual affair?
BA: I love the content each year at CES- the panels, presentations, keynotes. This year I think attendees will have more opportunity to take in all this great stuff that they can’t get to for some reason (presumably because they are like me, speed walking through the hall to a meeting). Also, everyone gets to experience CES from their homes- a new experience. I’m ready to embrace this year’s edition. I know how dedicated everyone at CTA is to CES so I have no doubt the show will be great this year.
BK: Do you anticipate any new innovations will surface this year that may have been spurned on due to the pandemic?
BA: Key themes around safety and proximity (how can people connect and engage but do so at a distance from each other) and telehealth will be the biggest pandemic connected stories. Something like contact tracing, which is done via apps on smartphones, is a technology solution to the pandemic. And work, many of us have spent months now working from home- I’m looking for any innovations around how people and organizations work virtually in this new era.
BK Healthcare has been a growing category for years and I’m guessing this will be even bigger?
BA: Health and wellness is a trend we see every year at the show but it takes on added importance this year. I think we will see products and services around telehealth really surge this year.
BK: What will we see out of the automotive sector and has it slowed with less commute patterns?
BA: I don’t think it has slowed down, but I think companies are activiely planning for how the emergence from the pandemic changes consumers and their interest in mobility. Could we see more mobility options focused on single riders? Perhaps some innovations around cleaning and sanitizing vehicles inside after use? I think this industry continues its very rapid pace of development but I agree the change in commuting patterns is something to contend with. It could be that our ‘new normal’ is a return to commuting, but on different hours in the day, or maybe fewer days a week. Things to consider, but nothing I feel will knock this industry off track.
BK: What categories have grown in light of the pandemic?
BA: 2020 was about keeping people productive and entertained at home. In 2020 we saw historic sales of big screen TVs as consumers hunkered down and binge watched their favorite shows and movies. Gaming was huge this year- gaming computers grew an astounding X% in 2020. With everyone working at home and multiple families needing their own PC and accessories, it was a big year for anything that enables productivity from home.
BK :How will audio be represented?
BA: I think we will see more new innovations around voice and digital assistants, but I believe the story this year in audio will be how it enhances these in-home content experiences consumers are having. Sales of big screen TVs has never been higher. We are in an age of bountiful content (with all you can stream video and music libraries and the popularity of podcasts) audio is right there.