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Narrowing The Search For Innovation At CES 2021

Panning for Gold in a Digital Stream

Gold prospecting at CES is a time-honored tradition: combing the floor for innovations that could genuinely impact people’s lives and businesses. Discovering new products in a virtual tradeshow is tricky, however. Without a floor to physically browse, attendees have to be more intentional. Instead of knowing exciting new technology when they see it, they must, to a certain extent, already know what they’re looking for.

Giles Sutton, co-CEO, CEDIA

This difficulty in identifying promising new products without physical tradeshows is part of why CEDIA created Propel. Propel is a member affinity program designed to connect custom technology integrators to new products by offering integrators preferential pricing and product training across enrolled brands. As the leader of the program and the interim co-CEO of the association, Propel has directly informed how I will approach CES this year, filtering for innovative products with strong potential business upsides for custom technology integrators.

The Sweet Spot in the Hype Cycle

Propel finds its most profound value in connecting integrators to viable products at what Gartner terms the “peak of inflated expectations” on the emerging technology hype cycle. The “peak” is characterized by awareness and excitement, but few real-world use cases. According to Gartner, the “peak of inflated expectations” is immediately followed by the “trough of disillusionment,” wherein the new technology is discovered, alas, not to be magic, before finally maturing along the “slope of enlightenment” to the “plateau of productivity.”

In evaluating newly announced products during CES, I’ll be looking for technologies on the “peak” that could be viable right now, but only in the hands of an experienced professional integrator. At this early stage, technically savvy professionals have the best chance of successfully implementing these new products. By partnering directly to share knowledge, context, and customer feedback, brands and integrators can build a mature use case that glides over the “trough of disillusionment.” Integrators benefit in the long run by being first to market with new innovations, giving them an edge in terms of relationships and experience as the category matures.

Technology for a Life Best-Lived

I’ll be looking specifically for brands in emerging categories like wellness. As Gordon van Zuiden, Founder and President of CyberManor, Inc. put it to me, “We know we need to think beyond core applications like AV, lighting and security to remain competitive.” During CES, I’ll be looking for products that can reinvent ordinary home experiences, from making coffee, to exercising, to getting a good night’s sleep, in ways both subtle and profound. According to van Zuiden, “These are the kind of relationships that allow us to be whole home integrators, anticipating and fulfilling all of our clients’ technology needs.”

Wellness is a particularly promising emerging category for custom integrators. There are already wellness-focused brands included in Propel, such Immersive Gym and Bryte, but I will continue to seek products that can enhance every stage of customers’ routines. What products can help customers get the most from their workouts by monitoring and regulating air and water temperatures for muscle recovery? Other products may help manage stress levels through biophilic lighting design and proper acoustics. I’ll also be looking for Active Assisted Living (AAL) products that could help customers with lost physical or cognitive function through custom interfaces or automation. Being clever or interesting is not enough; each new product should be part of a story about how customers can achieve the lives they want.

The Risk/Reward Ratio

Seeking to partner with brands on the bleeding edge entails a certain amount of risk; the days following CES will entail a great deal of research to uncover any fools’ gold. Still, the potential rewards for successful early adopters are great. This risk/reward ratio can be somewhat balanced by paying especial attention to established brands with in-house product incubators. Some of the most storied consumer brands in the consumer remain extraordinarily innovative; I’ll be especially interested to see how major appliance brands are approaching the smart home space.

Ultimately, the risk of time lost sifting through a virtual tradeshow for gold is far less than the risk that innovation will pass by unnoticed. I’m setting guardrails around the market maturity and categories I’m looking for, but keeping an open mind with respect to where the most exciting new innovations will originate. If I can identity a handful of new brand partners with the potential to give our integrator members a real edge in 2021, the Virtual CES tradeshow will be time well spent.

See also: CEDIA’s New Propel Affinity Program Designed To Accelerate Economic Growth And Business Opportunity

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