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The best advancement at CES 2021 wasn’t in technology

08 Feb 2021
Ludo Fassati headshot

Ludovico Fassati

Head of IoT, Vodafone Americas

At several moments during its 50+ year history, the model of CES changed significantly. The first show was held in June of 1967 in New York City. From the mid-70s on, CES took place twice a year — January in Las Vegas and June in Chicago. By the mid-90s, the popularity of the summer event waned, and organizers tried locations like Orlando, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

Finally in 1998, the annual format was established, and there it has remained. Until 2021.

Thankfully, we’ve come so far, in part to many of the technologies introduced at CES’ of the past, that a virtual event was possible.

The feeling was different but the advancements were still exciting — with the post show hype quiet now, I realised that one of the best was not directly around technology.

CES from home

Normally, CES is a hands-on event. Picking up the gadgets, trying the new devices, experimenting with a solution are what make the show so compelling. I especially enjoy checking out the startups and seeing what’s new by region, starting with Italy.

This year, part of the interesting innovation was how companies used technology to overcome the lack of a tactile experience. Products were still demonstrated, customer interactions occurred and meeting new people was possible.

While we assume (and hope) the show will be live in 2022, an interesting future could be a hybrid model. Supported by the latest in AR, VR and network technology, delivering the best of both in-person and the virtual worlds could be a refreshing take on this iconic event and additional way to captivate attendees and highlight innovation.

The top trends

Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 related gadgets, healthcare tech and telehealth were big trends. Smart masks, air purifiers, UV lights and touchless capabilities were aimed at consumers and businesses alike. For example, an air sensor that can analyse rooms for virus risks was presented. When the reopening of offices really takes hold, companies will rely on technologies like these to help create safe environments.

From curved or folding monitors, all-in-one/multi-device chargers and sophisticated keyboards to mesh routers and gadgets to keep your new home office clean, a breadth of technologies were launched to make remote work more productive and comfortable.

In fact, just about every connected thing at home became smarter and what was once not connected became Alexa or Google enabled. Robots were also seen for home and commercial use. The food industry can particularly benefit from the opportunity for hands-off preparation.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper technology show without talk of 5G and what impact the next generation network will have. Essentially, as the IoT seems limitless at work and home, we’ll come to depend on 5G for greater bandwidth, low latency and speed.

The best advancements

Although Apple has never been an official exhibitor at CES, the company often makes an announcement concurrently. This year, it launched new “Racial Equity and Justice Initiative projects to challenge systemic racism, advance racial equity nationwide.”

Apple said in a press release, “These forward-looking and comprehensive efforts include the Propel Center, a first-of-its-kind global innovation and learning hub for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); an Apple Developer Academy to support coding and tech education for students in Detroit; and venture capital funding for Black and Brown entrepreneurs.”

At the show, social action was also a theme. Whether through the products they presented or the content of speaking sessions, sustainability and diversity were more prominent, as was an overall push for companies to demonstrate purpose and show what they stand for.

In fact, research from Vodafone Business shows that adapting quickly to social change is essential for companies to be future ready. Social responsibility including a clear purpose and strong ethics is not only the right thing to do but also a way to stand out in the battle to attract customers and talent.

These tenets can’t just be marketing – we all need to show our commitment clearly with decisive action. CES often sets a tone for the tech community in the year ahead, so we’re thrilled to note that some of the best advancements weren’t technical at all.

I’m looking forward to seeing even more progress and what’s new at CES 2022.

Read more about our own purpose here.

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