Traditionally, this is the time of the year when many will be returning to the office feeling sluggish after the holiday season. By contrast, tech companies and journalists usually fly out to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Over 170,000 attendees from around the world would trek across more than 2.9 million net square feet of exhibition space in what many affectionately call an endurance event.
However, a show like this now feels like something from another lifetime.
The arrival of COVID has ensured that CES 2021 will look very different from its predecessors. Predictably, it's going virtual, but that's not the only change that the global audience will notice. Six out of the nine keynote speakers listed on CES's website are female.
Virtual visitors will also be pleasantly surprised at the promotion of technology that is being used to make a difference. Organizers are bringing a 21st-century mindset alongside the latest technology to deliver a vision of what the future of consumer technology will look like.
It's not about technology: It's about solving problems
CES has often been accused of showcasing technology solutions that are looking for a problem to solve. Last year, Charmin's bear-faced toilet roll robot and the Segway-Ninebot were the talk of the show floors. These are just a few examples of tech solutions looking for a problem to solve. But will this year be any different?
We can expect to see a security drone from Ring to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The prospect of having a camera-equipped drone flying around our homes, recording everything it sees, will be a perfect target for hackers. Even hardened fans of gadgets and gizmos will admit that their needs are very different from 12 months ago.
As remote working becomes the norm, many will be spending more time in their homes and will not need a security drone in their lives or the security vulnerabilities they could bring.
The reality is, we now have much bigger problems to solve. Our worldview has changed dramatically, and it's our physical and mental health taking centre stage.
A new set of problems requires a different approach, and consumer technology will play a critical role in how we progress forward. Diversity and inclusion are also essential in unlocking greater collaboration. A human-technology co-evolution is taking place, and sustainability, health, and wellbeing have become more important than throwaway tech.
Unsurprisingly, many aspects of the media are still reporting on the weird and wonderful gadgets rather than real-world solutions. But if you dare to look beyond the lazy tech headlines, product reviews, and regurgitated press releases, you will notice that CES is changing for the better.
Corporate and personal responsibility
Our health and wellbeing are now more important than anything else. Some are also exploring how technology can tackle climate change and the positive effects of renewable resources.
If there are any positives to have come from the past year, it's that increasing our sustainability efforts has become more important than a new foldable smartphone.
Many businesses are now stepping up to their environmental responsibilities and attempting to lead their customers into more sustainable lifestyles. Could the change in consumer attitudes towards their digital footprints and personal responsibility towards the environment see them choosing brands that use clean energy in data centres and processing facilities?
Last year Microsoft and Shell announced a partnership to leverage emerging technologies to reduce carbon emissions. The automotive industry is focusing on electric transportation and implementing charging stations across the country. The emergence of smart cities is also finally tackling congestion and traffic management that has plagued cities for as long as most can remember.
Can CES play a role in building a greener future?
As we approach 12 months of lockdowns, we have all been forced to reflect on our lives and think differently. The period has acted as a catalyst for innovation where technology combined with a new mindset is focussing on building proactive resilience around cybersecurity, economic, and public health.
Consumer technology start-ups are helping to build a greener future, and CES should be the perfect platform to highlight how tech is making a difference.
Last year's event showcased a series of climate change innovators that covered everything from car-sharing to IoT sensors and roof-top solar panels. But this year, we can expect many more to go from the fringe to entering the spotlight.
As an eternal optimist, I am hopeful that CES becomes a celebration of a diversity of thought and global collaboration. An event where people can explore and showcase innovative solutions from around the world that solve the problems facing the international community.
Don't be fooled by the reports of 8K cameras, 5G, micro-LED TVs, flexible monitors, robots, and smart home products. 2021 might be remembered as the year that CES finally grew up.