Consumer Electronics Show 2016: Are We in an Innovation Lull?

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), January 17, 2016 | Go to article overview

Consumer Electronics Show 2016: Are We in an Innovation Lull?


Byline: Hayley Tsukayama Washington Post

Consumer Electronics Show 2016: Are we in an innovation lull?

LAS VEGAS -- Scan over the highlights of this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and you may get a slight feeling of dj vu. Many of the coolest gadgets this year are the same as the coolest gadgets last year -- or the year before, even.

The booths are still exciting, and the demos are still just this side of crazy. It's still easy to be dazzled by the display of drones, 3-D printers, virtual reality goggles and more "smart" devices than you could ever hope to catalog. Upon reflection, however, it's equally easy to feel like you've seen it all before.

And it's hard not to think: Are we in an innovation lull?

In some ways, the answer is yes. For years, smartphones, televisions, tablets, laptops and desktops have made up a huge part of the market and driven innovation. But now these segments are looking at slower growth curves -- or shrinking markets in some cases -- as consumers aren't as eager to spend money on new gadgets.

Meanwhile, emerging technologies -- the drones, 3-D printers and smart-home devices of the world -- now seem a bit too old to be called "the next big thing."

Basically the tech industry seems to be in an awkward period now.

"There's not any one-hit wonder, and there will not be one for years to come," said Gary Shapiro, president and chief executive of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA). In his eyes, however, that doesn't necessarily mean that innovation has stopped. It's just grown up a little. "Many industries are going out of infancy and becoming adolescents," Shapiro said.

For instance, new technologies that are building upon existing technology haven't found their footing well enough to appeal to a mass audience, because, in many cases, they need to work effectively with other devices to realize their full appeal.

Take the evolution of the smart home, for example. Companies are pushing it hard but make it almost overwhelming even to dip a toe in the water for the average consumer, because there are so many compatibility issues to think about. No average person wants to figure out whether their favorite calendar software works with their fridge or whether their washing machine and tablet get along. Having to install a different app for each smart appliance in your home is annoying; it would be nicer if you could manage everything together. And while you may forgive your smartphone an occasional glitch, you probably have less patience for error messages from your door lock.

Companies are promoting their own standards, and the market hasn't had time to choose a winner yet as this is still very new. Companies that have long focused on hardware now have to think of ecosystems instead to give consumers practical solutions to their everyday problems.

"The dialogue is changing from what's technologically possible to what's technologically meaningful," said economist Shawn DuBravac Monday. DuBravac works for CTA -- which puts on the show each year -- and said that this shift to a search for solutions has been noticeable as he researched his predictions for 2016.

"So much of what CES has been about is the cool. It's about the glitz and the gadgets," said John Curran, managing director of research at Accenture. "But over the last couple of years, and in this one in particular, we're starting to see companies shift from what's the largest screen size, the smallest form factor or the shiniest object and more into what all of these devices do that's practical in a consumer's life. …

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