It’s impossible to sum up the conversations, companies and themes that have emerged at CES in one story. It would be like cramming 100 people in a single monorail car on the way to the convention center. Instead, I’m going to focus on what felt like the show’s biggest trend. Namely, every company is now a tech company.
As technology moved from computers to phones, we saw companies investing in apps and thinking about mobile, but as it moves into everything from air fresheners to baby cribs, it’s becoming clear to everyone outside of the tech world that tech is a necessary component to their business. Unfortunately, the flip side of this is that many companies have only the foggiest ideas of how to use technology to improve their products or the customer experience.
At CES 2017, the concept of “put a chip in it,” was apparent everywhere. From Moen’s shower module that replaced a faucet, to a hairbrush that will tell you the health of your hair, companies were indiscriminately putting connectivity in their products, building apps and calling it done.
Those were the bad examples. But other examples showed how some companies were thoughtfully adding technology (namely connectivity, sensors and software) to their products in a way designed to provide real value.
For example, Target is releasing a line of connected lamps under its house brand, Threshold. These lamps, which range from about $40 to $110, use Bluetooth and tunable white lights to give consumers a connected lighting experience that blends into the background. The pricing is important. It’s not much more than an unconnected version of a similar lamp.
The Target engineers explained that they chose Bluetooth because it was already in phones. They avoided colored bulbs because consumers don’t care about that. And while there are companies such as Philips and Nanoleaf that are rethinking how we light our homes with novel fixtures and concepts, Target was simply putting a few features into a lamp.
The tech became an add-on feature, not the product’s reason for existing.
Target is one of several companies that are slowly introducing tech into everyday products in a low-key way that will, in turn, show normal people what kind of benefits connectivity has to offer.
That’s not to say Target’s approach is the only way to bring technology into traditional businesses. I ran across a more traditional startup called Angler Labs offering a sensor that will attach to a fishing rod to log weather conditions, catches and location automatically to your phone, replacing the traditional paper logs that fishermen carry in their boats.
I could see that becoming a nice Christmas gift for anyone who likes to fish. One day all rods might be offered with such technology integrated, but that day is far off. In the meantime, tech is encroaching on a very traditional business, bringing intelligence and digital sensing to a new area.
Which brings me to my final point as all industries embrace tech. Target is not going to become a tech company. It has to fold technology into its products in a seamless way. But it’s clear that technology has become so accessible that electrical engineers at Target, who have designed lamps for years, can now make a connected lamp.
As for the fishing company, it’s bringing tech to a place where it traditionally hasn’t been, and as it does, it’s bringing a new source of data. That data will become a tool to help provide new services to fishers. It’s that data, not the tech inside the product that it sells to consumers, that will be valuable for Angler Labs.
So as other big businesses line up to embrace connectivity and sensors, they will do well to remember that even as they all become tech companies, they have to understand the right way to implement it to provide value. It’s not enough to put an app on something or to connect it.
Tech isn’t something you bolt on to a product or a business. It will become something folded gracefully into your business to offer new functions and features to traditional products, or it will provide new sources of data that lead to services we can’t imagine yet. In some cases, a business may get adding tech to do both. For example, I’ve heard of a friend who used a software similar to FilecenterDMS to better organize their physical documents by scanning them in and working towards an efficient, paperless office.
I think this is wonderful for the most part, but next week I’ll also talk about how this could all go horribly wrong.
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