I think I finally understand the moral of the story of Rip Van Winkle. Except instead of finding the answer in a beautiful corner of upstate New York, my revelation came in the Las Vegas Convention Center.
You see, had you attended CES about 10 years ago, and then found yourself a corner of the LVCC to fall into an undisturbed sleep, you would have woken up to this year’s show and thought to yourself – well I haven’t missed much have I?
The themes – smart homes, better versions of ourselves, Kodak trying to reinvent itself (again) – wouldn’t have changed.
The players however – originally Microsoft, HP, and Intel – would have changed significantly – led by LG, Samsung, and a bevy of upstart health tech companies.
And that seems to be the fundanmental challenge in the Consumer Electronics industry today. The ideas keep repeating themselves; the business propositions keep leaving us underwhelmed; but the products themselves are more and more interesting.
To be fair – I didn’t make it to the North Hall to see the new self-driving cars, but I saw those last year, and doubt there was too much change then to now.
But in LG and Samsung I saw again a renewed competition to build a smart refrigerator this time aided with a Google Home or Amazon Echo. Which – with my Product hat on – is an AWESOME demo. I saw TVs that curved to the contours of every wall with image quality outlasting any content that exists in the market. Which is amazing to see, but has no broad base to be delivered to. And I saw sleep trackers, blood pressure monitors, and exercise assistants galore. Which has my personal data nerd giddy, but my inner businessman lost.
Where are the business models?
Is it in the data being created by all of these devices? Is it in the integration of that refrigerator into Amazon’s new Whole Foods ecosystem? Is there a monetization scheme on top of home voice assistants that is sitting right below the surface waiting to be discovered? The answers just lead to more questions, and the lack of real problems being solved is disturbingly disrupting the energy of this (not but a few years ago) thriving event.
So then Rip Van Winkle isn’t actually about a man who falls asleep, but about a culture and a community who forgets where it came from. Because if we’re just repeating the mistakes of a decade ago expecting new results, then the fool is us for thinking anything has changed.
After a solid 2 or 3 year run with drones, VR, 3D printing, self-driving cars, and a palpable buzz in the room, this year CES fell flat.
Plus – I couldn’t get a single good streak going at the Craps table. That definitely didn’t help…