The Best (and Worst) of CES 2017

CES 2017

…According to Us

If you’re as obsessed with innovation as everyone around here, then the outpouring of new products featured at CES 2017 is not to be missed.

We geek out over this event every year, and 2017 was no exception. From fishing drones to smarter toys, thoughtful innovations for busy parents to developments in AI, EV, and all our other favorite acronyms, we’re still talking about the best of it—and the notably lackluster. Let’s hash it out:

Here are our favorites from CES, in no particular order:

beyond gizmos

Beyond gizmos and gadgetry (way beyond)

Jayson Simeon
Jayson Simeon
Director, Industrial Design

Overall, I think this is the year home automation gets real for the common consumer. With a critical mass of smartphones in the market and enough one-hit wonder startup products to gag even an early adopter like me, home automation products have had time to mature behind the scenes and work out a lot of kinks.

The jury is still out on which platforms will win in the end, but an increasing number of serious contenders in the market only means more good options for interested consumers. In their fight for mass adoption, platform products from software and service companies like Google and Amazon have quickly made up a lot of ground versus the tech leaders of today (Samsung and Apple). Ultimately, the winner will be the one whose services can stay relevant and sticky, and whose products can maintain the highest demand in the long run.

Aside from the gizmos and gadgetry that typically define CES these days, I’m most excited about the wealth of options showing up in the electric vehicle marketplace.

In recent years, Tesla has been having all the fun, but we are finally seeing the fruit of Elon Musk’s epiphany that it’s lonely at the top. With the newest releases from companies like Lucid Air and Faraday Future, EVs are finally making noise and confirming that there will be more than one option vying for EV supremacy.

The days of the combustion engine are numbered… 

And I should mention Toyota’s AI-powered self-driving concept. Weird looking? Yes. And also an interesting exercise in future use-cases for fully autonomous cars.

Speaking of interesting, I’ll finish with an awesome technology from a company called Tanvas:

Touchscreen UIs feel the same across the board—like a cold piece of glass. But those days are numbered. Tanvas is a company bent on pioneering haptic feedback technologies for touchscreens, making virtual textures something you can feel in a touch environment.

It’s like VR for your fingers, no goggles required.

Hey Siri!

Hey Alexa, Did you hear about Siri and Cortana?

Gray McCord
Gray McCord
Chief Technology Officer

This looks to be the year of the AI. Apple, Amazon, Google, Microsoft and even Mattel are all offering versions of AIs with varying levels of competency. Amazon’s Alexa now lives in a robot and a refrigerator. Someone even hacked it into a Teddy Ruxpin (you cannot unsee it).

So my question is this: When I walk into the house with my iPhone and sit down in front of my Windows PC next to the Echo, who do I ask to do what? I think the proliferation of AIs in “stuff” is the next great usability challenge. I mean, how do you decide which one of your electronic slaves will get the honor of telling you the weather forecast? Do I put Alexa in time-out because it doesn’t give me the answer I want? Can I start rumors about Siri and Cortana with Alexa?

This is driving me to drink. OK Google, get me a beer!

The simple things

It’s the simple things…

John Bernero
John Bernero
Chief Operating Officer

Ok, so on the surface, AirTV is just another set-top box for cord cutters. But finally, someone integrated streaming and live over-the-air channels. I no longer have to hunt for the TV remote and change the TV input in order to switch from a live football game on a local channel to binge watching on a streaming service like Sling, Hulu, Netflix, etc.

Sure, soon I’ll just be able to ask Google or Alexa to do that for me, but until then…

At least we don’t have to wait for the Motiv Ring. It was only a matter of time before motion trackers changed from silicone band bracelets to sleek pieces of jewelry.

Another development that we’re all ready for: the FF 91. It’s nice to see another company take a crack at Tesla with a self-driving electric vehicle. It’ll be interesting to see if they are the real deal or if they’ll flop, but they already have an Impressive 64,124 reservations made within 36 hours of being announced. 

Once you’ve parked that fancy new vehicle at home, you’ll be thankful that refrigerators are getting smart and connected—and it actually makes a lot of sense!

On the Samsung Family Hub, you can leave messages to loved ones, look at the weather, and check your daily calendar. Is this the replacement for Post-it Notes and make-shift family calendars stuck to refrigerators across the world?

On the LG Smart Instaview fridge, you can knock to see what’s inside before opening the door (i.e., did someone eat last night’s pizza or take the last beer?). And I can use Alexa to add an item to my grocery list or order something. Hmmm…if it also works with Instacart, this could be dangerous! No wonder people are getting fatter and lazier.

And finally, the list of items that make no sense at all:

  • The smart toaster, so you can receive phone notices while your bread is toasting
  • The smart hairbrush, so you’ll (finally!) know whether or not your hair is wet
  • And Razer’s Project Valerie. Interesting concept, but now I have to buy 3 seats on an airplane in order to work.

Sights and Sounds

Sights and sounds

Lucas Wade
Lucas Wade
Industrial Design

Typically, I am deterred by the plethora of screens and TVs at CES, but this one definitely caught my eyes and ears. While OLED displays are showing how the future of displays can be thinner and brighter with less bezel, LG has been experimenting with a prototype called the Crystal Sound OLED, which embeds a sound system directly into the display panel using the bezel of the TV as its speaker casing. In the demo, tiny beads actually bounce about on the screen as sound audibly plays throughout.

Based on a review from Gizmodo, the sound is much greater, louder, and clearer than you would expect!

TempTraq

Taking care of baby (and Mom too)

Casey Branson
Casey Branson
Business Development

As an obsessive new mom, I often find myself lurking in my baby’s room in the middle of the night (at risk of waking her up), feeling her forehead and her cheeks to make sure she isn’t too hot, too cold, or too anything. And I seriously go out of my mind when my baby is sick or if I think she is “coming down with something,” which she rarely is…but I become majorly sleep deprived all the same, just stressing over the thought. 

So I love this product. TempTraq is a wearable wireless thermostat. Its soft, disposable patch softly sticks to the baby’s torso, under his or her underarm, and monitors baby’s temperature 24/7. 

I’m all about anything that gives me peace of mind about the welfare of my kid. Bonus points for extra sleep for this working mom.

My other favorite is the HairMax hair growth laser device. It stimulates follicle growth to combat natural hair loss. I’d like to see their next-gen form factor help with over-plucked eyebrows.

PowerRay Fishfinder

Fishing for better fishing

Hector Rodriguez
Hector Rodriguez
Industrial Design

The PowerRay Fishfinder is an underwater fishing drone that uses sonar systems to detect fish, map the underwater landscape, and collect temperature data, sending live video to users via its internal WiFi. It can also connect to a virtual reality set, to give users an immersive underwater viewing experience.

Jon Schmidt
Jon Schmidt
Mechanical Engineering

The PowerRay is my favorite new tech toy from this year’s CES. For several years, drones have been improving the way we view the world with a bird’s-eye view of our environment. This innovation from Powervision yields a more unique perspective: a fish-eye view.

The submersible drone dives 100 feet underwater and streams 4K video back to your phone or even VR headset. It has a fish-finding function that tells you the location and depth of those elusive little creatures, and it will actually shuttle your fishing line to the optimal spot. 

Finally, I can watch HD video of fish actively avoiding my lure.

Kuri the Robot

A Letter to My Future Robot

Heather Benoit
Heather Benoit
Mechanical Engineering

Hi Kuri. Thanks for being an awesome robot. It’s really cool that you can take videos of my dog while I’m away, but why can’t you wash my dishes? I know the lack of arms and hands is a challenge, but I believe in you. I think you can be the robot butler of our dreams… or at least, you’re a step in the right direction.

Lego Boost

Cultivating tech-savvy creators & tinkerers

Kevin Gentry
Kevin Gentry
Mechanical Engineering

Kids grow up immersed in a world full of amazing technology and innovation…just look at what was revealed at CES 2017! 

This is why I loved the Lego Boost. This robotics kit and programming environment takes everyone’s favorite childhood obsession and uses it to introduce and foster a love for a new passion: engineering and programming. Aimed at children as young as 7, it simplifies programming compared to Lego’s famous Mindstorms kits and focuses on an intuitive learning app. The Lego Boost is aimed to help children become the tech-savvy creators and tinkerers that can usher in even more amazing technology in the decades to come. 

Hairbrush and Speakers

New approaches to established products

Clive Twyman
Clive Twyman
Business Development

There were a couple of products at this year’s CES that pointed to important trends.

First, the Kérastase Hair Coach, Powered by Withings.

What it is: A smart hairbrush, which connects to an app on your phone and tracks your hair health. It’s the result of a partnership between Nokia’s smart-home manufacturer, Withings, and L’Oréal.

What it tells us: Personalization is a key theme emerging from this year’s CES. The hairbrush is a good example of this; it will tell you whether you’re brushing too hard, and it can give you advice about how your hair, in particular, can be improved.

Second, Mars by crazybaby, a levitating speaker.

What’s wacky about it: As its space-inspired name suggests, this speaker looks like a prop from a 1950s sci-fi movie—in a good way, mostly.

What it tells us: Well, even the exhibitors at the crazybaby booth admit that a levitating speaker is largely an aesthetic choice. But they do claim that it offers superior sound because it separates the tweeter (the floating part) from the subwoofer (the base), and the design offers 360-degree sound.

Moreover, the mere existence of the levitating speaker (and crazybaby is not the only one showing off this type of product) can tell consumers a couple of things: For one, there is obviously still some appeal in having something that just looks cool—even for technology as established as the speaker. And consumers can expect companies to continue tweaking mature forms of technology, making small improvements that may not always blow your mind, but are incrementally better than those that came before.

Breast Pump

About time this mom market got disrupted

Nathan Careless
Nathan Careless
Industrial Design

I feel I should copy and paste my brief synopsis of CES 2016 into this post regarding CES 2017. Inevitably, VR, autonomous everything, TVs, and the connected home again take center stage. But scratching beneath the app-fueled surface, there are some useful innovations that focus more on human-centered design and less on technology for technology’s sake.

Take the Willow breast pump as a great example. Having just recently had our second child, and having witnessed the horror show of my wife fighting with a breast pump, I can certainly recognize that this is a market that craves disruption. Willow is a discreet, wearable pump that tries to simplify the experience, allowing mothers to pump in a more liberating manner. It features fewer parts, easier assembly and cleanup, better human integration, and also an interesting consumable/durable business model.

This gets a thumbs up from my wife for meaningful innovation, even if it does have an app associated with it!

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About M3 Design
Founded in 1996, M3 Design is a product development company located in Austin, Texas. We craft and execute product development strategies for leading technology-based companies.