Welcome to episode 240 of The Digital Life, a show about our insights into the future of design and technology. I’m your host, Jon Follett, and with me is founder and cohost Dirk Knemeyer.
For our podcast this week, we’re going to chat about all the new tech fun as CES 2018 gets started in Vegas. Now, CES has become what I would consider sort of the defacto emerging technologies showcase for a lot of companies, and every year we see more and more sort of early stage, early adopter type technologies make their debut at CES. I think this year, it’s true now more than ever.
Jon, how has CES evolved over the years? I’m not familiar enough. Maybe you aren’t either, but when I thought of CES a decade ago, it was like, “Okay, it’s the hottest new phones. It’s the hottest new computers. It’s the hottest new monitors.” It was sort of incrementally, evolutionarily the latest in personal computing, to some large degree. It sounds like it’s taken on a form that’s much more diverse than that, so what’s the history of that, to whatever degree you’re familiar?
Yeah. I’m familiar with it only to a certain extent, but I’ll give you that. The CES convention was the Consumer Electronics Show, right? That was what the acronym stood for. I don’t know if they’re still using that, or they’re just calling it CES now, but you’re right. It began with much more mundane consumer electronics, and notably, when Apple was making such big waves with the iPhone, they would sort of deliberately put their major announcements in show like a week later or a month later, right? Apple would not go to this show, almost as if they were too big. Apple necessitated their own show, right?
When I think of CES, I think of Microsoft, which may be right or wrong, but that’s the brand association in my mind of what’s going on.
It’s definitely grown quite a bit over the years. I mean, it just keeps growing and growing, and I think it’s become this sort of monolithic showcase that it just wasn’t in the past. Now, I’ve went to CES maybe four or so years ago, and I’ll tell you, there’s huge diversity of displays and things like that, and there’s parties just everywhere, and there’s just endless … You can’t really walk the show floor, because it is so big, it just keeps on going on forever and ever, and you really need to be wearing your hiking boots or something, because it’s just room-
Yeah. Room after room after room of electronics. In some ways, it reminds me of the kind of growth that SXSW, for instance, has been going through. There’s certain tech, big tent tech conventions now, conferences, and SXSW is a lot of that for digital, and CES is that for sort of hardware, software combination, consumer type electronics, which is now being driven by emerging technologies, and I think that’s where our interest lies, but it’s amazing to me how much the show, as you rightfully pointed out, has really changed over time.
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).
I’ve noticed sort of the initial announcements coming out of CES really match with some of the things that we’ve been talking about on the show, and namely, that’s virtual assistants and AI are just being built into just about everything. In fact, it’s interesting. Alexa, the Amazon AI virtual assistant, clearly Amazon has been flogging the partnerships, because Alexa is just showing up in all sorts of third-party products right now, and of particular interest to us, to you and me, are the smart home products, right? Those are automating, controlling, extending, enhancing the digital and physical life of your home.
In particular, our design studio has done a lot of sort of health-related smart home concept designs, one of the most prominent of those being sort of the bathroom as health room, and it’s interesting to see as Alexa starts getting integrated into the bathroom sort of related products, that it’s really moving the bathroom more into a smart room kind of category, not the health room sort of measuring some of the health metrics, and delivering useful health information on a timely basis to the user in the bathroom. It’s not there yet, but we’re starting to see some of the inklings of that. There’s a smart mirror from Kohler, which does very limited things around the way the lighting is handled, or there’s a smart shower head, which can control the temperature of the water. There’s little nibbles at this bathroom … I think it’s accurate to say it’s becoming a smart room. It’s not into the health room category that we-
It’s not even that smart yet, right?
It’s dabbling, let’s say.
It’s mediocre student bathroom, right? It’s not even all that smart yet. But that’s happening, and it’s notable that Amazon is really pushing hard, and so of course for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. From this case, Google, and they don’t want to be left out of the smart home. Google has bought all kinds of advertising all around Vegas, and they’ve of course got their Google Home, and their AI and virtual assistants that are going to be built into things as well. There’s a little bit of a smart home showdown this year between Amazon and Google. I’m sure there will be other players as well. It feels like Apple is lagging behind in that sector, for sure.
Shock of shocks. Apple lagging behind in a sector. Ooh, wow. What a surprise.
I think connecting our digital services and sort of the physical home environment is a big theme, big emphasis of the CES show this year. Another thing that I’ve noticed from some of the early product announcements, and this was a surprise to me, that innovation in displays is still an area that is important and attracting a lot of attention. Some of that is displays just for the home, and then some of that is displays actually in automobiles, which I find a little disconcerting, to think that the automobile is the next realm for having all sorts of screens everywhere.
There already is screens everywhere, though, right?
Sure. It’s still, to me, some of these concept cards that are rolling out at CES have, instead of a dashboard, and we’ve seen these before, you just have this giant screen, right? You have a screen that takes up the front of your vehicle now. You no longer have the dials that we’re used to, or the physical accoutrements.
Dials? You’re so cute, Jon. Dials. What’s a dial? Come on.
Right. Just making everything digital in the car, I’m so … Even being acclimated to software the way I am, it still freaks me out a little bit to think that the dashboard of a car would be entirely digital. Not just for the radio, or the satellite radio, or whatever it is, or maybe for a map. Okay. I can accept that. But everything. You go in there, and it’s just blank. It’s like starting out with your laptop screen. There’s nothing. I always am a little scared, like what happens if the car doesn’t start? I’ll just be sitting here looking at this cold, blank display and not know what to do.
But looking at a gauge with a little plastic thing on zero makes you feel nice and warm and fuzzy?
There’s a little bit of assurance there, and I don’t know why, that there’s a physical thing that I could interact with.
You’re just old, brother. You’re out of time. You’re out of step. The technology is passing you by.
It is passing me by. Yes. The car displays are important, and also these OLED displays that are thin enough, they’re being marketed as … I think LG has one that you can roll up. It’s like a 65-inch TV that you can roll like a newspaper or something.
Now, we talked about roll-up displays as prototypes years ago on the show, so it doesn’t sound like technology’s moving very fast.
Well, maybe not fast, but it’s still wicked cool to have a … I mean, 65 inches is a substantial display.
It’s like a beach towel, right?
Yeah. You can roll it up and lie on the display on the beach, I guess. But it’s interesting to me, because we’re such visual animals to begin with, and we think there’s been a lot of hype around the voice user interface, and what I’m really seeing a lot of is this interface convergence that I just did not expect, right? When you always think of these exclusive categories of interaction, and we’re really starting to see this overlapping, so you could have your voice UI, your touch, and then your screen display, and maybe some gestural things, combined with biometrics and whatever else it is. There’s this, for lack of a better term, I’m just calling it UI convergence, but it’s multiple kinds of inputs, some of them that require sort of physical interaction, others that are more the spoken vocabulary for the voice UI, and then of course you have the sort of traditional, “I’m pointing at something. I’m going to move it here.” I mean, touch really sort of brings that. It’s the epitome of that, but you’re still doing essentially the point and click type of interface.
That, to me, feels like something notable from a user experience standpoint, because now you’re talking about the potential of having UI that spans a number of digital and physical interactions, which as much as I understand these separate modalities, like having them all together in your home or in your car is exciting to me, and something that I think is noteworthy.
I mean, it’s all about having the right user interface, right? The correct user interface, and having something that is bringing things together, so it’s the right tool, in the right moment, for the right thing. It makes perfect sense.
Yeah. I mean, something as mundane as communicating while commuting, right? You have multiple potential modes there. If you’re on the train or something, you might be texting, but if you’re in the car, you might prefer the virtual assistant to read the text message to you, transcribe your reply, or maybe if you’re stopped at a light or something, you could just point to some generic response like, “Hey, I’m driving.” Or, “Hey, be there in five minutes.” Things that would require a little physical interaction, but not a ton. Not enough to distract you from the task at hand, right?
I mean, that example could be voice as well, but the bottom line is, “What’s the right interaction for the right context?” It’s all about matching that properly.
Yeah, and I think what’s sort of exciting about these technologies we’re seeing roll out at CES 2018 and sort of the potential for the user experience to broaden for the user is, like you said, it’s about context. It really is. In the past, I don’t think there was maybe as much weight attached to that for a particular interface. I mean, the laptop interface is sort of the same thing, irrespective of the context that you’re in. There isn’t a lot of potential for transformation. It’s just this thing that sits on your lap, and granted, you can do it in the coffee shop or whatever, but it’s limited in its ability to morph into something more appropriate, right? Whereas with all these technologies, I think there’s a challenge in there too, because you have all of these potential user interfaces now, so you have to make some decisions, and I’m sure that we’re not going to get it right all at once.
I mean, it’s what smartware is all about, right? I mean, the laptop, as a tool that we’re familiar with, is just that, a tool. What smartware is about is creating these interactive environments that is the right thing, in the right place, at the right time. It’s not just, “Here is your tool. It’s going to behave the same way in every context.”
Yeah. I’m excited to see what else comes out of CES 2018, but those are some of the themes that I’ve seen from the show so far.
Listeners, remember that while you’re listening to show you can follow along with the things that we’re mentioning here in realtime, just head over to thedigitalife.com, that’s just one L on the digital life and go to the page for this episode. We’ve included links to pretty much everything mentioned by everybody, so it’s a rich information resource that you can take advantage of while you’re listening, or afterward if you’re trying to remember something that you liked. You can find The Digital Life on iTunes, SoundCloud, Stitcher, PlayerFM and Google Play. If you want to follow us outside of the show you can follow me on Twitter @jonfollett, that J-O-N-F-O-L-L-E-T-T. Of course the whole show is brought to you by Go Invo which you can check out at goinvo.com, that’s G-O-I-N-V-O.com. Dirk?
You can follow me on Twitter @dknemeyer, that’s @D-K-N-E-M-E-Y-E-R, and thanks so much for listening.
That’s it for episode 240 of The Digital Life. For Dirk Knemeyer, I’m Jon Follett, and we’ll see you next time.