How thin is thin?

How thin is thin?
How small is small?
How big is big?
How red is red or blue is blue?
How D is 3?

Guess where I am?

IF you didn’t guess the International CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas…you were wrong – on the other hand, if you guessed some place better – TELL US!!

Held annually, what once was a show for buyers of TV sets and home appliances morphed into a glitzy showcase of the latest and greatest and coolest “technology,” and has morphed, once again, into a discussion forum for Brands and agencies and content creators and manufacturers and publishers and Media types and various others  – who are all desperately trying to figure out their own singular and collective roles in a world where the device that you carry can do everything, from making a call (do you remember phones?) to sending an e-mail (so old world) to updating all of your social networks with your current location (not to mention how you liked the burger you just ate) to storing your entire library or the movies you want to see or the music you love to hear; your favorite pictures (of course, it can take and send them as well); to live video chat (if there isn’t a two-way camera, it’s so antique…) to reminding you it’s time to exercise and, by the way, yesterday your workout was wimpy. Just about the only thing it can’t do is press your clothes…more on that later.

As is our tradition (even high tech has ritual), Daniel Morel and I joined the famous CES tour of Irwin Gotlieb, which is de rigueur if you want to make sense of mile after mile of flashing screens, blinking lights, blaring music and endless pitchmen, dancers and carnival-like shows.

It has been my experience that Irwin’s path takes us to the emerging ideas that become next year’s or beyond showcases. We spent time on 3-D last year, which was more of a sideshow – this year it’s front and center. In fact, 4 years ago we saw early movement-recognition technology expressed in a game where I boxed the exhibitor – this year Microsoft’s Kinect (a great and amazing product) debuts at CES, although it has already sold 8 million systems.

Needless to say I was excited to hear and then see the latest, greatest, hottest new technology and stuff and have a jump on the world.

But here is the thing…

Irwin began by saying that in past years we could watch or listen or play or use and understand in a second the possibilities, the applications, the excitement of the product or even service.

This year, he said, was all about explaining. Not that we couldn’t see the newest iterations of tablets and televisions and smartphones and such, not to mention wild displays on amazing screens – but we had seen them or lookalikes before and the incremental improvements were not yet exponential, or they were in pursuit of other companies that had successfully launched and created markets…guess who???

So when we saw “Smart TVs,” we were numbed to boredom by the disparate interfaces, created by engineers, providing OTT – over the top solutions to simple “problems” like how do I access all the content I want on my TV?

When we saw smart phones, one merged into the other rather quickly and tablets were viewed by people holding their iPad in their other hand.

The discussion became just how complex does the operating system need to be? How many clicks and moves do I need to employ before I can watch Avatar on my big screen (yes – big screen is the place to be), and then how is the use of data – which is huge paid for – if you think its costly to use an iPad hang on….

Truth – I was still mesmerized by the quality of screen resolution most shoeing sword fights or monsters battling or car racing duels – but then I always am. Ha!

I was reminded by one of my favorite thoughts on Technology – a quote used by Intel on many occasions –

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Arthur C. Clarke

Remember those days? We couldn’t even begin to imagine what we take for granted today.

Yet here is the thing – the Intel Booth – once the source of so much Magic – was filled, mostly, with large screen TVs demonstrating Smart TV systems – boring as well as every manufacturer’s tablet – all in pursuit of a better Apple.

Like a joke – that has no laughs if it needs explanation – technology has no magic by the same token.

All of which came to a head at the Motorola Booth, where their much-touted tablet was being shown using video on the screen instead of the Android 3 system – which reminded me of the following quote and just how much we have become jaded:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.James Klass

So from magic to rigged demo – UMMMMMMMM.

Lest you think I left with nothing new – let me tell you the most important message I took away and the best product I saw.

The message came from LG. Last year their OLED screen TV was the gem of the show. Showcased like a museum piece, its resolution was wild and the price of $18,000 US for a very small screen led to endless discussion of its viability.

This year the OLED screens were larger – some in 3D (maybe the best we saw) – the price of $18k was now $1,700 for the same size and my new Windows 7 Samsung Focus Smartphone uses OLED technology on its fabulous screen.

And what amazes me is that on all the CNN reports and others I have seen and read, they are still talking about 3-D and tablets. To me the opportunities are summed up in 18 to 1.7 – there is the future and we had better be on top of it!

As for product? Hands down the best, most exciting thing I saw was also from LG – a Smart Steam Closet that steams, freshens and disinfects your clothing and is sized to fit in your clothes closet at home – I want one! Not available yet in the US, it will sell for around $1,500 – and you will make that up in a year of dry cleaner savings – now that’s magic!

Having said all of that and if I have kept your interest, what about all the brands and agencies etc., etc., looking for direction and a competitive edge?

Frankly – too many think it’s all in the magic – as if to paraphrase – “The Medium is the Magic” it isn’t any more than the “medium is the message – in today’s world the message is the message – the medium is just another way to deliver it – a function of just how used to it all we are.”

So it seems to me that the takeaway for all of us in the business is really simple and was articulated by Sir Martin Sorrel in a panel discussion around this issue. The challenge for us is how to apply the technology – to understand the consumer, customer, user – to have insight into needs and desires; to use data wisely and with precision and to use it all in the creation of content and programs that are important to people – that educate, entertain, inform, make life easier and better. If we can do that, we will be successful and our industry will have a long and productive future.

I wish I knew who said the following, but to me it embodies the huge opportunity we have as marketers…listen:

Technology does not drive change – it enables change.” Unknown

We can be the enablers of change – the drivers of making all the flashing lights and glitz of a trade show real, tangible and important to people.

Kinect excites me because of the huge possibilities that motion and face/body recognition bring to the table.

3-D, frankly, doesn’t excite me – it’s here and it’s just another way to view content and in fact will be – should be the only.

And by the way – FORD gets it – using the forum to unveil – in a first for an Auto Giant – a new car –  http://www.engadget.com/2011/01/07/ford-unveils-focus-electric-and-myford-mobile-smartphone-integra/

Tablets don’t excite me, as they are just another evolution, but smart home appliances do because of the marketing opportunities inherent in their use.

In the end the news to me is that we have never been more relevant – yet we have never worked so hard to make ourselves irrelevant by ceding our expertise to inanimate objects and cold software loops.

Don’t know about you – but it’s time to take it back. Time to drive change. Time to own today and the future.

And you?  What do you think?

PS – I want the magic back!!! Maybe next year.

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