Getting the
Tech Scoop at
CES 2016

The Consumer Electronics Show is an exciting, inspiring — and exhausting — way to jump into the new year. At the 2016 show in Las Vegas, we roved the convention halls looking for friends old and new who are showing off the new approaches and shiny new technology that we’ll see enriching our lives in the years to come.

While every year the show sees its share of copycats and me-too products, we left motivated by CES’s many high points in products, services, and even the odd celebrity sighting (Hello, Iggy Pop!). Some of our favorite trends were true technological achievements, while others were things of physical beauty, but all shared an inventive spirit that sent us home inspired and ready to create.

Connectivity

Seamlessly interconnecting the many facets of our daily lives is a goal that’s being hotly pursued by many of this year’s exhibitors.

Staying connected at home…

While in past years we saw methods to automate the home in ways that often seemed like more trouble than they were worth, there were standouts this year that we’re rearing to give a shot.

Bosch is introducing a new subsidiary, Bosch Smart Home, to accommodate their many connected home offerings. The brand saw a focus on the kitchen — with features like a fridge that takes a photo of its contents each time the door is opened — but also took an expanded view that moved out of the home to include smart cities and industry.

Whirlpool’s Smart Kitchen Suite integrates with the brand’s mobile app, Nest, and Amazon Dash to cover the basics — ordering more of a product when it runs low — and also some more complex features — automatically producing more ice when entertaining guests, and sending parents notifications if someone tries to use a locked stove.

Other notable mentions included Insteon, Honeywell, and French brand Nod On.

… staying connected on the go…

Automobile tech is as popular as ever (more on that later) with connectivity features in particular seeing a surge of interest.

Throughout their booth, NXP showcased a variety of interesting ways to create better connectivity, but we were most excited to see the concept car demo that our team helped them to develop. The display highlighted the variety of ways in which information, entertainment, and safety can all crystallize into a single cohesive experience within your car.

Bosch was another of our favorite brands to show off their connected car tech with displays ranging from a detailed model of how cameras show a driver the whole area around a car, to a sexy driving simulator with glowing panels.

A variety of phone accessories are enabling better connectivity as a secondary benefit by making it easier to instantly share photography that's of extremely high quality. Catering to the ever-expanding set of users who have stopped using cameras at all in favor of their phones, these accessories are allowing users to immediately share photos that they would have previously needed to download and retouch at a computer. Now there's less downtime and they can reach their audience even faster. Lens accessories and a variety of tripod or stability devices are making it easier than ever for users to take those professional-looking snapshots and get them uploaded to Instagram faster than you can say DSLR.

News: Fasten Your Seatbelts: We're Driving Into CES with NXP's Connected Car

… and not losing your connection

But what’s the point of being connected if you’re not fully powered? The greatest selfie in the world isn't worth a thousand words if your phone dies and you can't post it, but more importantly, losing power to a mobile device can be catastrophic as we do more business on the go.

One of the biggest treats this year was seeing the launch of NRG Go, a rental system for portable phone chargers. In addition to eliminating a common plague at CES — your phone dying on the middle of the floor — the holistically designed system is primed to change the way we travel and go about our daily lives in this phone-dependent age.

Goal Zero presented Yeti 150, a fume-free solar generator that’s a boon to campers, but more importantly to people in a state of emergency. Waiting for power to return after a natural disaster can quickly turn from frustrating experience to public crisis. As an environmentally responsible and renewable way to stay powered, the device could be a literal lifesaver.

Tailor-Made Experiences

Across categories, we were delighted to see companies taking truly unique approaches to their wares, elevating them from an everyday product to a tailor-made experience by reexamining how they’re really used.

In the Home

Whirlpool looked to pantries and walk-in closets to totally reimagine the inside of your fridge. While a custom closet has shelves and storage designed to hold specific articles of clothing — from dresses to shoes to folded shirts — a fridge’s storage areas have never achieved quite that level of detail. The Smart French Door Refrigerator takes a more exacting approach, with a central area for tall standing items, narrow shelves for pizza boxes, and even stadium-style displays for condiments — each space is tailored precisely to its contents and to the way that people actually use their fridge storage.

In Accesories

The product of a successful Kickstarter campaign, the Revols earbuds adapt to the exact shape of the user’s ear. “The interaction between people and product is really interesting,” said Ross Brinkman, industrial designer at TEAMS Chicago, “When the product arrives, it isn't yet in its final form, so there's a very important and unique interaction that occurs between user and earbud. It's creates a sense of ownership, like a fingerprint.”

In 3D Printing

3D printing continues to be harnessed more effectively to create individualized solutions. In previous years, 3D printing has been showcased as a bit of a playground; as the fledgling technology worked out the early kinks, the wares on display were overwhelmingly chachkies. Now that the technology has matured a little, increasingly practical applications are being demonstrated more and more with every passing year.

Advances in 3D scanning for custom 3D-printing solutions dominated the floor, particularly in the medical arena. Everything from footwear to prosthesis is being made to a user’s exact contours. While many of these items are ones that have always been tailored to a specific user, the process continues to become faster, easier, and less costly. But don't worry, there's still plenty of fun and life-sized printed Stormtroopers to be found.

Audio

With new-to-the-market brands such as Harley Davidson and Kodak entering the already crowded audio market, companies are by necessity finding ever more inventive ways to differentiate themselves — whether through unique styling or through futuristic tech.

High Style

The series finale of Mad Men clearly hasn’t dulled the show’s influence; a new interpretation of retro audio style was apparent in a variety of audio products, most notably borrowing the old idea of treating home audio as furniture. While smaller components have shrunk the size of our home audio devices, details like wood paneling and long, elevated feet have an obvious source in the TV and record consoles of decades past.

With a booth that’s always alive and pulsing with live music, the House of Marley has been a perennial crowd pleaser ever since their launch several years ago. After we helped the brand develop a design strategy that embraced authenticity in materials and an approach to audio accessories that treated them as fashion accessories, it’s been a pleasure to see the brand grow as much as it has while remaining true to a mission statement that embraces charity and unity.

The House of Marley has clearly been a trendsetter in this market, with warm, natural materials like wood veneer and leather showing up across a score of brands.

Case Study: The Global Making of Marley

 

Cool New Tech

The Luna speaker by Crazybaby consists of a saucer speaker that magnetically levitates over a subwoofer base. The portable saucer can be grabbed out of the air to travel around with the user or left to float over the subwoofer; if it runs out of juice, it gently lands on the subwoofer to wirelessly recharge, floating back into the air when it's done. Whoa.

While the technology is dramatic, we were most impressed with how that tech impacted the experience by taking advantage of what we all want to do when we see a levitating object: “The levitation aspect makes you want to touch it,” said Brinkman, “and visually separating the two is a clever and unique way to emphasize the portability.”

Startup Audasis was on hand to introduce a brand new category in personal audio; Oasis is a hybrid — an over-the-ear headset that you snap your earbuds into in order to cancel noise. The prototypes on display were designed and created in a dizzying month-long sprint that brought the fresh idea to Vegas just in time for the show.

News: Earbuds, Meet Headphones: Audasis Makes Grand Debut at CES

Automotive

Following Jeep’s highly publicized smart car hack last year, digital safety and security were at the forefront of automotive tech. The secure transfer of data featured prominently in NXP’s concept car demo, showing how it factors into a car's other connected systems. While safety remained top of mind, major automotive brands still showed off dazzling concept cars and infotainment systems.

Our partner Cellcontrol provided a different kind of automotive safety, protecting us from ourselves and the disastrous choice of texting while driving. With their Drive ID units, cell phone signals can be blocked from the driver’s seat while the signal remains uninterrupted in the rest of the vehicle, allowing users to stop themselves, their children, or their employees from distracted driving without cutting off passengers from the network.

We can’t wait to get our hands on some of these products, but the team is even more eager about the aspect of integrating the exciting tech into our design work. “I hope TEAMS will have the opportunity to work on some of these areas with our clients and further advance both their functional aspects and visual languages,” said Nicole Baksinskas, office manager of the Chicago studio. “VR and drones would be new product categories for us and very exciting.”

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Hybrid Audio at CES