CES 2014: Lurking on The Floor: 3 Takeaways From an Outsider

This is where the disclaimer normally comes in:

Tommy San George works for GumboLive, a New Orleans-based creative think tank part of the IPG network. Any views expressed are his own and do not represent those of the IPG MediaLab.

…or something like that.

That’s because with tech and electronics, I’m what many might call a “lurker.” The term popularized on Reddit – the self-described “front page of the internet” – refers to those whom often observe content on the site, but never contribute to the community. While I often graze on the vast prairie of tech news, I rarely dig deeper than the topline movers and shakers. For the week, I’ve been a lurker in Vegas at CES 2014.

Spending time with the MediaLab pros this week only highlights the point further. The diligence and meticulousness of the team has been remarkable to witness – their research, organization, and execution all week has been second-to-none.

Then, there’s me. Always a couple steps behind in understanding what the hell I’m looking at. That said, I walked, had conversations, and got to play around a bit to take a peak into the future of the industry from my layman’s perspective.

Here are a few takeaways from the experience – the things I saw, felt, and what I think about them.

1. The first/second screen distinction is fast becoming obsolete
It’s no secret the content viewing habits of Americans have shifted away from the TV and towards laptops and mobile – many times, occurring simultaneously. The shift highlights something in entertainment and tech: the coming era of immersive and customized content-viewing ecosystems where every consumer is empowered to completely control his or her experience.

A few important showings: SambaTV’s built-in service that syncs experiences on the first and second screens, allowing viewers to engage deeper with shows and ads at the click of a button. Similarly, Qualcomm continues to expand its Sesame Street multi-screen experience for children’s entertainment. Samsung’s SmartTV ACR brings tweets about the show you’re watching seamlessly onto the screen.

The distinction between screens is fading. Mobile devices are becoming more than just an extra screen, but an interactive remote with the ability to access and affect content in more profound ways than just volume and channel. So, what if brands could replace commercials with real-time, interactive, on-screen TV spots? Or if your family photos could appear live in the background of your favorite shows? More control is here, and a new way to define entertainment is on our doorstep.

2. The car is becoming the most connected room in the house
Chevrolet and Audi debuted 4G LTE connectivity while a host of manufacturers formed Google’s Open Automotive Alliance in hopes of standardizing a highly fragmented operating system marketplace. Cars installed with a version of Android are reported to start appearing in late 2014.

BMW and Mercedes debuted smartwatch integration, allowing drivers to communicate remotely with their cars for info and diagnostics. Taking an even bolder step is the 2015 Hyundai Genesis – the first vehicle to integrate Google Glass into the driving experience. Drivers will be able activate a host of controls from the device including door locking and car starting.

This and next year’s models will feature more screens, more data, and more interactivity between driver and car making a long awaited improvement on a market long absent of proper tech integration. Will Android’s new platform gain a rich base of users? And with a huge base, might we be able to, say, crowdsource the location of potholes? Measure the quality of air? Gauge and more localize the broadcasting of weather conditions?

No matter, the car is finally catching up with the world around it, and CES is becoming the auto show to be at.

3. The elephant in the room: Google Glass
Google never attends these things. Their mantra is: “come see me.” Nevertheless, their beta debut of Glass hardware early last year might have been one of the most interesting PR stories to come out of this year’s CES. Glass. Was. Everywhere.

What if I were to tell you, you could:
1) Show off your device at the largest tech conference of the year,
2) Have users be mobile showrooms by walking all around the floor (and Vegas) with your product,
3) AND have your entire presence paid for by the crowd?

You’d take it right? Well, Google sure did.

It must have been the highest concentration of Glass in any one location to date. The total number at CES must pale my 70 or so Glass sightings. If wearables were to be one of the biggest stories behind CES 2014, Google Glass has to be in that conversation. They were in so many conversations, effectively had users pay for their presence, and outfitted more people with their debut product than any other brand. Well played.