The Connected Future, a retrospective from my first trip to CES

After visiting the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), I created this diagram as a way of laying out the complexity of the current landscape of “screens.” Everyone thinks the mobile phone is the screen of the future, but I actually think “the cloud” is the screen of the future.  Once all devices and screens are connected to the cloud, it won’t matter which device is dominant. Wherever you go, whatever you do, the screen in front of you will have your information.

Why did I attend CES? To peek into the future of consumer technology.  My thought was, if I could spend several days immersing myself in the newest new from the technology world, I’d begin to see where the world is heading and be more adept at helping my clients engage with their customers.  So where are we headed?

To a world where we’re connected to each other and to the web – everywhere we go.

At CES, I saw no less than two dozen new tablet computers.  I saw cars that can access your calendar (either via the cloud or your mobile device) so you can automatically get directions to your next destination without having to specify where you’re headed.  I saw home media systems that pull in all of your content and allow access in any form throughout your house.  I saw new phones that run on 4G networks, ensuring that you can access content and connect with your friends at a moment’s notice.  I saw Skype-enabled TVs allowing people to video chat with their family from their living room couch.

Surprisingly, though, what I loved about this conference is that it was not focused on marketing.  It was purely a look into consumer technology without marketers having to force their place into the equation.  Too often, that is the mindset of marketers – to FORCE their way into people’s lives.  So when the typical marketing manager hears about this type of technology, their first instinct is to find a way to slam advertisements in the middle of these interactions.

I have a vastly different view of how marketers should leverage this connected future. We finally have a chance to be relevant to our customers – to help brands be connected to their customers when the customer needs them, not when the brand needs to sell more widgets.

Still, it’s notable that – as Edmund Lee and Michael Learmonth of AdAge recently observed – the new wave of connected devices is often missing a key component: good content.   This signals an opportunity for innovative marketers – if they can create content that is both relevant and compelling to consumers.

My first trip to CES was, in a word, eye-opening.  Not because it was an overwhelmingly massive conference, which it was.  Not because it took over Vegas for three days, which it did.  And not because I ended up walking upwards of ten miles on the show floor, which I did.  No, CES 2011 was eye-opening for me because it pointed to a future that I’m extremely excited about.

An example of the connected future:

You pull into your favorite fast food restaurant and your car, which knows that you’re using Weight Watchers because it has access to the WW app on your mobile device, shows you the menu items that are the best points match for you, based on what you’ve already eaten this week, displaying this on your in-car screen.  It also weighs the knowledge that tonight you have a company party on your calendar (which it has access to) and, historically, you eat too many appetizers at this type of event.  Because you also have the Groupon app, it informs you that this restaurant is running a deal where you can get a free sandwich if you buy a $15 gift card.  You make the purchase from your car because your mobile phone is your wallet and has access to your credit cards and banking.

When you pull to the window to pick up your food, the cashier tells you that you’ve just hit 1,000 points in their loyalty program (because their system has interacted with your car, determined who you were and added the appropriate points to your loyalty program) and you have earned a free soft drink.

As you pull out, your car notifies you that your best friend is at the Starbucks a mile up the road, and it knows the two of you have been playing email-tag trying to get together. And even though your car informs you that you rated that particular Starbucks with 3 out of 5 stars, because you “were annoyed with the attitude of the cashier who sneered when you ordered a ‘medium’ instead of calling it a ‘grande’,” you still decide to stop by and see your friend.

This example isn’t that far off from what we’ll see in the near future.  Each “screen” will have data about you, pulled mostly from the cloud, to improve your life.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Joe Koufman. Joe Koufman said: The Connected Future, a retrospective from [@JeffHilimire's] first trip to CES […]

  2. Shannon Delaney on January 11, 2011 at 3:31 pm

    At first people might think you don’t like marketing managers, but we all know that you DO. You nailed it when you said marketers need to find better ways to fit into people’s lives. The types of interactions you described are all about removing barriers and enabling decision-making. Marketers should focus less on jamming in the next CTA or marketing message, and more on how they can leverage innovative technology to the facilitate inherent social behaviors and enable connected commerce. Sounds like a great trip!

  3. Drew Hawkins on January 11, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    I experienced a lot in the way of the direction cloud computing is going when I went out to Dreamforce last year. Sure, all of the technologies there centered around how they could be used with a specific product (Salesforce) but still learned a lot about how we could access information from just about anywhere. Not only access but on the business side, be able to respond to customers accordingly.

    The lack of content is a huge issue affecting the adoption of a lot of these technologies. These new technologies cost some money and there has to be sufficient content out there for the average consumer to justify spending money on a device. For example, the reason the iPod took off as quickly as it did was mainly thanks to iTunes…they had content to back up the device.

    I’m extremely excited about the direction things are heading. Curious to see how consumer interactions are transformed in the next few years.

  4. Anonymous on January 12, 2011 at 5:25 am

    Jeff — I love your vision but I think that some level of machine intelligence will be necess

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