Beware of shiny objects: CES boasts innovations that lack mass appeal

Hasen is skeptical of Toyota's e-Palette concept

“Whoa” is the first word that you noticed in this year’s CES promos and on attendee badges.

And, if you are similar to me, it’s the first word that you utter across all show floors and exhibit halls in Vegas.

Like when you see a “smart” bathroom promising to test your urine (that’s actually dumb). Or when you come upon signage proclaiming a “robot revolution” (that one is my official hype winner in what was, as always, an extremely competitive category).

I’m no anthropologist but some of my best learnings come from taxi drivers on the way to and from the conference.

This year, on the road in from the airport, a middle-aged gentleman at the wheel scoffed at the need for voice-activated devices all throughout his home.

“I’ve got that on my phone with Google,” he said. “Anything I need to know, I can get it already.”

For the fourth year in a row, I asked the so-called Average Joe and Joanne whether they have interest in a “smart” refrigerator that could tell them when they are low on milk or beer, and even save a return trip to the market for an otherwise forgotten item.

The answer is always “no” with privacy being the main inhibitor.

So, I guess the urine-screening toilet isn’t making it into their houses – or yours or mine – anytime soon.

Just what was shown at CES that could have mass appeal?

Those products that had a personal touch.

For instance, the smartest watch is the one that is intelligent about you, not everyone else. Casio brought a meaningful group of apps to a previously released watch that now caters to individual taste.

For instance, Fishbrain is supposedly the world’s largest community-based fishing app, producing local fishing forecasts and the best spots to catch that big one. However, I haven’t fished since I caught a muskie 27 years ago (luck, not app), so the Pro Trek Android Wear model had to offer me something else. Choices are now in the categories of skiing, surfing, golfing, swimming, and hiking. That works for me.

And all the apps are included with purchase of the watch.

Elsewhere, there were apps that solved some of life’s challenges – cooling a house in summer before you arrive home, for example. New? Not so much. Appealing to folks like my cab driver? Definitely. Those apps have become more intuitive and valuable.

But for all of the products that sought to address a need, there were thousands of others that left me scratching my head.

Atop that list were the self-driving concept cars from Ford and Toyota that touted pizza delivery as an effective use case. Will the cost go down for the consumer? Will the human-less car put more pepperoni on the pie? Is there a cost-savings for the pizza companies?

If the answers to all of those questions are no, please tell me why someone would be willing to go outside in the snow and darkness, in pajamas and slippers, to use an unfamiliar keypad to unlock a pizza that costs the same or more and makes the consumer work more for it.

Customers won't pay more for a pizza just because it comes in an innovative way. If a carrier pigeon could get it there hot and quickly and cheaper, they’d happily say, “the heck with self-driving cars.”

And about those robots everywhere? For what?

My wife doesn’t want a lawn mowing robot. She’ll quickly tell you that she married one.

The lesson of it all?

Beware of shiny objects. Know that the 180,000 who attended CES almost surely misrepresent your customers and prospects.

Build upon what you know. Definitely make bets on innovation or you will be left behind. But don’t wager the house.

Much of what we saw were early-adopter models at best, ones that caused a ripple on Twitter but are not destined to do the same on Main Street. Or in taxis where the real deciders of product success or not make their livings and spend their money judiciously.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.