My First Time at CES

Though I’m a seasoned trade show professional, I was a little intimidated attending CES for the first time. I’ve wanted to attend for years and, now that I’m not in the saddle managing the Outdoor Retailer shows, I had the chance (thanks to Gearographer!). I took it with glee.

Trade shows in general are such a great way to get out of the day-to-day mindset and think broadly about trends while building contacts and friendships in the industry. I’m a big believer in the value of face-to-face, obviously.

The Consumer Electronics Show has been the largest annual show in North America (over 2M net sq ft sold) for the past several years. The show takes up 3 convention centers in Las Vegas, and draws over 150,000 qualified attendees.

One of the more interesting shows I attended in 2014 was July’s Wearable Technologies (W-T) Conference in San Francisco. I followed this group with some interest ever since meeting them in Beijing, China in 2008 and serving as a judge in their ‘Bluetooth Innovation World Cup’ in 2009. The Germans have a reputation for precision and detail, and the scoring system for this tech innovation contest did not betray that reputation. Eventually we narrowed down the hundreds of entries to the top 20, then the top five, and awards and accolades were given.

Fast forward five years and I am perusing aisle after aisle of innovations that were born from that event.

Needless to say, attending CES was a natural progression for my fascination with technology as it applies to both events and outdoor adventures. For me, the priorities at CES were to make discoveries and advance my acumen on:

1)      Wearable technologies for sports and outdoor use
2)      Event-applicable technologies (audio, video, signage, organizational and creative tools)
3)      Gain a sense of where the consumer is getting excited
4)      Network with current and new business contacts
5)      Connect with tech companies that should be in the active outdoors arena

Wearables was one of the key pushes that the Consumer Electronics Association (owner and producer of CES) was touting—along with fuel cell and driverless cars, connected cars, and the connected home.

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Other notable growth categories were hi-res audio, gaming, and 3-D sensing and computing (depth recognition/hand and body communication with computers in 3 dimensions). That latest item was one I did see at W-T, and it was truly eye-opening as to the possibilities. If Gandalf had a smart-staff, he could have opened the doorway into Moria before the lake beast got its tentacles on Bill the pony… (Oh, wow, LOTR geek alert).

The wearables market is one of the most relevant and growing sectors in technology worldwide. These stats were shared recently via SGI:

Wearable device unit sales will rise 61% in 2015 to 30.9 million, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, and generate a 133% increase in revenues to $5.1 billion.

Health and fitness devices will lead the charge with the sale of 20 million units and revenues in excess of $1.8 billion this year.

Smartwatches, meanwhile, are forecast to reach 10.8 million units and $3.1 billion in revenues in 2015.

Now to the wearables that relate to my truest of passion—outdoor adventures. There was quite a bit of tech for fitness tracking, though there was also a noticeable gap between the fitness of showgoers and the models who sported themselves on treadmills, stationary bikes, and even a mini Spartan challenge course.

Although a fair amount of the wearables innovation was in the style/fashion jewelry category (a few fashion licenses are appearing and will no doubt expand as the category gets going), Fitbit was valiantly defending its early lead with a broad array of bracelet/watch/ring offerings.

Mostly what I saw on the attack side were mild copycat treatments (7 brands with ‘fit’ as the first name, not to mention iFit and Life Fitness) as well as an expanded network of elements in the connected environment like multiple workout equipment pieces in a gym (TechnoGym, FitLinxx). There was the dazzling wearable drone (demonstrated at the Intel keynote address), which attaches like a bracelet to the wrist but can be launched into the air, fly away, then return to be caught and re-attached after snapping some selfies or short vid clips.

The continuous stream of apps for fitness/health has a new player in the ranks—Under Armour’s ‘Record’. It seemed a bit redundant since they already own MapMyFitness and MapMyRide, but this new platform has a few differences that some may find more useful and intuitive.

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The standout wearables were the Basis Peak smartwatch (owned by Intel), the Jins Meme smart glasses, and some of the developments in mid-priced but high end audio (Monster earbuds, Braven bike-mount speakers, Jaybird’s latest wireless under-helmet offerings).

GoPro was showing strong, although the Hero4 launched last year and they didn’t have anything wild to shout to the press (besides ‘GOPRO! GOPRO! GOPRO!’ From the booth). Sony launched a 4k, high-res action camera to up the ante ($500) in the category.

Notable, though probably not easy to ride, were Rocket Skates. That officially makes wearables available from head to toe!

Beyond wearables, outdoor retailers and industry leaders should keep an eye on the tech rolling on the highways in the form of smart navigation, smart storage, and self-driving cars with seats that convert to lounge style face-to-face. Also of interest to outdoor enthusiasts are high-end but lighter weight optics for wildlife viewing and star-gazing (Celestron), and absurdly small but brainy chips like Intel’s Real Sense depth cameras and sensors which scan depth as well as the two other dimensions. Very useful in home security, sports, and for just getting creative.

In case you are thinking this wearable tech movement is a flashy trend or bound for the neon fanny pack pile (apparently those have bounced back, sadly), check out how the German national futbol team used wearables to up their game and win the World Cup.  No joke, wearable tech is just beginning, really, to make itself known and valuable in a connected world of outdoor recreation.

Last note—I always pay attention to the diversity mix in a big crowd (esp. at trade shows). It says so much about the market, really. This ginormous crowd was truly international in flavor and the age and gender mix was impressive. Although compared to OR, SHOT, SURF, Interbike and most of the rest of our industry set, this show was a completely futuristic beast of wild inclusivity, Intel made a point of announcing a rather huge commitment to expanding diversity in its ranks. I guess it’s all about context.

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