CES: Innovative…But?

Observations January 15, 2013 8:08 pm

Walking around the floor of CES was nothing short of amazing- it was my first time at the show, and I couldn’t help but be a bit overwhelmed by the crowds (cough cough, we need a bigger female presence), the booths, and of course, all of the gadgets and electronics.

Maybe it’s because I’m immersed in the world of futuristic tech everyday with PSFK, but I walked away from CES thinking, innovative, but…? I couldn’t help but feel like many of the products I saw missed the mark and were examples of innovative ‘tech for tech’s sake,’ but nothing that would really improve a consumer’s life. In nearly every conversation I had with reps at booths, I would inevitably come to a question where their answer would be along the lines of, ‘Um… XYZ doesn’t do that… yet.’ Or even worse, blank stares, blinks, and a promo quickly thrust into my hand, signaling it was time for me to move on. Why didn’t the tech get to 100%?

Am I jaded, or has the up-till-now pace of innovation conditioned us to always want more from the latest product? And what happens when innovative tech doesn’t meet consumer needs?

Two examples from around the floor that highlight the disconnect between innovation for tech’s sake and innovating with the consumer in mind:

Tesla Model S: Without a doubt, this is a sleek car. The dashboard has been replaced with a 17 inch touch tablet, allowing the driver to program turn by turn directions, control the A/C and music, and take calls without picking up their smartphone. All great innovations that keep the driver’s eyes on the road and their hands on the steering wheel.

BUT one glaring omission was in the camera view- the tablet can give the driver a view of what’s behind her, helping her to park or back up without hitting anyone. Still great… but when I asked if the camera could be changed to a side, blind spot view for help with changing lanes or merging into traffic, the rep nervously shuffled in his seat, cleared his throat, and commented on the fact that it would be helpful but the technology wasn’t there yet.

If the point of the camera technology is to make the driver more aware of their environment, shouldn’t it help in all aspects of driving, not just rear-view? Rear-view cameras aren’t exactly new to the market.

Moneual Touch Table: This handy little table makes ordering and paying at a restaurant easier than dealing with cranky waitresses. Scroll through the menu, touch what you want to order, and a clock even tells you how long you’ll have to wait to see your food. And an integrated payment system- an NFC reader on top of the table and a credit card reader on the side- lessens the hassle of having to wait for slow service to bring a bill.

Innovative, yes, BUT when I asked the rep if the table could alert a waitress that the table needed service, I got another, um, hmm. Not yet, but maybe in the future. As it is now, the table doesn’t solve a major issue in the restaurant industry- having to wait for refill or flagging the waitress down if you need anything. Wouldn’t it have been great if the table had added a ‘flag waitress’ button? Or better yet, sensors that could automatically alert the waitress if, say, your drink glass was empty. The touch-sensitive table would be able to tell the difference between different pressures, which would be noticeably lighter if a glass was empty. Would have been a great, customer-service oriented addition.

Both examples of innovative, forward-thinking tech, but both made me think R&D stopped at 90% instead of committing to fully understanding why a consumer would even want to use the new tech.

To their credit, the products were 90% of the way there. Not like products that failed to be even 20% there.

Like 3D TVs. Heralded as the latest and greatest for years, viewership is still so small Nielsen can’t even measure viewership- they can count on less than 115,000 households to be watching TV in 3D at any given time. Call it price point, lack of 3D content, or… the truth. Consumers aren’t clamoring to have a 3D TV. Yet all of the major TV companies trotted out the newest, ‘best’ version of their 3D TVs. What about, instead of focusing on pushing a product consumers don’t want, focusing on developing a product that stems from consumer feedback… on what they actually want to see in the market? Just because we have the capability to make something, doesn’t mean we should.

And the biggest example of tech-for-tech’s sake? The iPotty:

A completely unnecessary potty training toilet fitted with a waterproof case for an iPad. Just because, huh? A product that just crowds our lives with more devices, but doesn’t really serve a purpose– kids have learned to use the toilet for centuries without the need for an iPad.

On the other hand, another product at CES also seems ridiculous at first glance- the HAPIfork, a fork that vibrates if you’re eating too fast. The HAPIfork focuses on solving a real problem- overeating, and uses advances in technology to address the issue. Yes, it’s been made fun of to no end, but I’d rather have it than a 3D TV. At least the fork is useful, and it’s an example of the kind of innovative tech I want to see at CES– products that actually address and solve a real consumer need.

I understand that CES is meant to show off the latest innovations and show us what our future could look like, but how good is a future surrounded by products that don’t actually improve our lives? Whether it’s a product like the Moneual Touch Table that’s almost there or a completely ridiculous product like the iPotty, exhibitors need to be 100% focused on consumer needs in order to be a real-world success. Does CES put too much pressure on brands to announce a new ‘innovative’ product each year, even if that product isn’t really innovative, and would benefit from more time with R&D?

I mean, it is called the Consumer Electronics Show- maybe we should start paying attention to the ‘consumer’ part.

(it’s almost as if  exhibitors are taking the ‘What Happens In Vegas, Stays In Vegas’ tagline a little too literally)

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