Companies, innovators, and the curious have come to look on CES as the holy grail of innovation. A way to benchmark one company’s ingenuity against others and gain an elevated place in the minds of the press and the public alike. But CES can actually tell us more than that. It’s not always easy to identify the pithy trends emerging from CES amid the constant onslaught of new gadgets, TVs, and curiosities (which happened virtually at CES 2021). And yet one must try. But once you look past the TV screens and smart shower heads, you find insight into human wants, needs, and interests. And so we did. Here are some trends that were meaningful to us.

1 A More Natural Form of Augmented Reality?

Technology pundits keep watching for a big tech firm like Apple to unveil augmented reality (AR) eyewear. But maybe eyewear isn’t the only future for AR. Mojo Vision unveiled an AR contact lens known as Mojo, which won the CES Last Gadget Standing Award. Picture everything you’ve read about AR eyewear – the ability to overlay useful and engaging information directly into your line of vision – but without the need for eyewear. That’s Mojo in a nutshell. Mojo is definitely futuristic stuff. But if Mojo Vision can pull it off, AR would be a more natural extension of our lives. And that’s important. Think mobile phones taking off after Apple dropped the iPhone. The breakthrough happened because people felt so comfortable with their iPhones that they used them unconsciously. AR could be headed in this direction sooner than we think.

2 Meeting Human Needs

We saw a proliferation of products designed to address human needs such as safety and security – a byproduct of the pandemic that defines how we live now. It’s arguably a nice change to see as it means companies are (finally?) listening to their users and communities and taking action with them in mind, not just dollar signs. It may have taken a pandemic to get companies there, but we’re hopeful that in a post-pandemic world our innovators continue to see the value of looking at innovation this way. A couple acutely pandemic examples include:

  • Airthings analyzes the risk of Indoor virus spread.
  • The AirPop smart mask monitors local air quality.

And here are many more examples of products from CES designed to make our lives safer during the pandemic. But meeting basic human needs goes beyond the pandemic.

  • We’re living in a new era of wellness care that was gaining momentum before Covid-19 happened. CES 2021 reflected this reality. For example, Biospectal’s OptiBP smartphone app enables instantaneous blood pressure measurement and monitoring. The HealthyU is an intelligent remote patient monitoring device. By performing wireless ECG outside of the hospital while incorporating auscultation and other important vitals; the device makes virtual care appointments more valuable, which is significant as more people adopt telehealth.
  • Everyone’s mental health has taken a bit of a beating during the pandemic as we have endured threats to our safety, economic security, social separation from loved ones (makes you remember the power of a hug / physical contact), and overall well-being. So it’s no surprise that CES 2021 featured products designed to relieve stress, such as the Cove, which uses designed vibrations to calm our brains, and Stillness, an aromatic bathtub from Kohler that promises to calm as well as clean.

It will be interesting to see whether and how this human-centered approach to innovation continues to grow as our society adapts to life beyond the pandemic, but that time is not here yet.

3 Ecosystems Prevail over Products

CES showcased entire ecosystems that connect products to create value that they could not otherwise deliver on their own. Here are some we liked:

  • Vehicles continue to become part of the technology ecosystem that make driving safer, smarter, and, well, more fun through connected devices (and we’ve been seeing this phenomenon happen over the past few years with voice technology). Example: advanced driver assistance systems that improve a vehicle’s safety by electronically assisting drivers with driving, alerts, and parking functions. Oh, and being connected goes beyond cars now: CES 2021 was about connected bikes, too.
  • At-home gyms are quickly becoming much more than smarter bikes. They’re connected experiences incorporating screens, devices, and content (a topic we’ve been writing about on our blog). At-home gyms exploded in popularity in 2020. Now major brands such as Apple and Samsung are realizing that they can quickly gain a toehold in this fast-growing market by building experience ecosystems with their products (Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s smart TVs) at the center.
  • Smart home devices make at-home living better, perhaps inspired by the growth of the stay-at-home economy. They include the Skoog Cube for creative play, Moen’s Flo water security system to protect the home from leaks, and L’Oreal’s Water Saver to make haircare more sustainable by using less water.

As we have said on our blog, the evolution of product is experience-driven growth.

4 Sustainability

Remember sustainability? During the pandemic, the future of our planet is as uncertain as ever. The L’Oreal Water Saver we mentioned above isn’t the only product created with sustainability in mind. It was impossible not to overlook them – many discussed here. They include the Lasso (the first closed-loop domestic recycling appliance) and Square D smartphone-connected light switches designed to conserve on energy use. Even products that don’t scream “sustainability” have an impact. For example, as part of the Keurig ColdSnap ice cream machine (possibly the darling of CES 2021) encourages people to get at home what they might normally enjoy by driving somewhere, thus cutting down on car usage (and exhaust air pollution).

These at-home products also reflect the disruption of supply chains occurring everywhere. When you make a product of your own at home, you can also skip the process of having someone deliver a product. Think about it – no need for delivery and the associated supply chain complications. No need to leave your home to shop in-store or at curbside. The potential long-term impact on supply chains is enormous. It does, also, beg the question about raw materials as at-home manufacturing continues to move further towards a consumer reality having started with 3D printers.

5 Power to Creators

The popularity of social media platforms such as TikTok underlines the enduring power of user-generated content – but better tools are emerging to empower creatives. Consider the Panasonic immersive concert experience, which tethers together Panasonic products such as LUMIX BGH1 camera, Technics True Wireless in-ear headphones (EAH-AZ70W) and the Panasonic PT-RQ35K, (the world’s smallest and lightest 3-Chip DLP 4K projector in its class). What do you get out of all these products? Well, if your aim is to create, you have the means to build immersive worlds, not just TikTok videos. That’s what the band Cold War Kids did at CES 2021 with a state-of-the-art virtual concert using Panasonic gear. Few artists have the resources and wealth to pull off a Fortnite virtual concert as Travis Scott did in 2020. CES 2021 showed the rest of us what creativity can look like – an affirmative statement to usher in 2021.

Build Inspirational Innovation…Together

Perhaps your company is trying to figure out how to solve business problems with emerging technology or progress faster with your innovation journeys. Not only can we help achieve that, but we love doing it! Through our FUEL methodology, we apply techniques such as design thinking and lean innovation to rapidly develop meaningful experiences and scale them. If that’s of interest, give us a shout and let’s create inspirational, impactful, and user-centric innovation.

Mark Persaud

Mark Persaud

Practice Lead, Immersive Reality