Innovation

CES (And Why It’s Secretly All About Mobile Pay)

For most of the year, Las Vegas is something of a specific taste. If one happens to love gambling, showgirls or extremely bright lights, it is a lot of fun. If one happens to dislike one or all of those things, Las Vegas is more or less a perfect approximation of hell on Earth.

But for the last half-century, for one week a year — the first week — Las Vegas literally and actually has something for everyone because the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) comes to town. And we mean everyone. The family futurist can shop for a robot, gamers have their pick from VR and PC upgrades and televisions as always have enjoyed a starring role in the festivities. Apparently, they are brighter and more colorful than ever before.

However, hardware, while still a central part of the CES story, is not exactly the main event anymore — or at least it is enjoying a double bill at this point with a lot of enabling software. As we noted yesterday (Jan. 4), despite a limited direct presence from Amazon this year, its signature AI platform, Alexa, has been popping up all over the place.

And Alexa hasn’t been alone, as “smart” everythings have become a bigger part of the conversation. From cars to houses to almost every imaginable appliance in between, it is not just about the devices and what they do but also increasingly which software platform is making the doing possible.

So, what was weird and wonderful out of CES this year, and what will it all mean for What’s Next in payments and commerce? We’re so glad you asked…

 

The Good, The Bad And The Really Weird

Gadgetheads and novelty fans have their pick of experiences as they do every year, and on some level, it would be an exercise in futility to try and catalog everything that was on display at CES 2017. As always, there was always a lot of … well, everything.

Need a three-foot-tall robot concierge/caregiver? No problem — the AvatarMind iPal is there to keep your calendar and to befriend your children/old people.

Like your speakers but really wish they levitated? Crazybaby has your back. If its sales pitch is to be believed, the levitating really improves the sound quality the speakers can offer.

Need a drone for some reason? More good news — the average price of a fully functional drone of your own is down to around $900 from around $1,400.

Wish your hairbrush were a better companion? Good news — so did L'Oréal, which is why it has introduced the world to the Kérastase Hair Coach — a smart hairbrush that connects to an app on your phone so it can keep you updated on your hair’s health. The brush also makes hair treatment recommendations and will help its owner develop a hair care routine. As long as he or she remembers to charge it, of course.

And while there is perhaps some temptation to roll one’s eyes at a smart hairbrush, “smart” has so far been the word of the week at the Consumer Electronics Show.

Televisions are always a star player, and while increases in the amount of 4K content ramped up the buzz for 4K TVs and their amazing color palettes, someone was equally likely to hear about how “smart” various next-gen TVs were and how seamlessly they connect owners to a variety of content streams, apps and other devices. TVs with Amazon’s Alexa baked in, new Samsung upgrades that some are forecasting will make Google’s Chromecast obsolete — the TV of tomorrow is not solely about consumer content as much as it is about creating another connection point for consumers to carry on digitally.

Cars are also getting the big connectivity upgrade, and CES saw a variety of designs on display. Google and Hyundai’s big integration was the connected car cover story out of CES — on display for attendees is how Blue Link Agent can compatibly integrate with the Google Home Assistant and allow for control of various functions of a Hyundai car with voice commands, those such as, “OK, Google, tell Blue Link to start my car.”

And Google and Hyundai weren’t the only big-name pair-ups. Nissan and Microsoft were widely expected to give a preview of a possible dashboard integration for the Cortana AI. And in the blasts from the not-too-distant past division, even BlackBerry is back, though not with a phone this time but rather powering the OS of smart cars being conceptualized by Lincoln and Mercedes.

And the smart cars to come can do more than remote start — they can get directions, preset their temperature, order lunch and even pay for it.

 

Why All Those Connections Are Important (And Payments Powered)

Back to that silly-sounding connected hairbrush for a second. While it might be hard to imagine anyone sitting at home right now desperate to purchase an opinionated brush, it is not impossible to imagine a world very much like this one where traditionally “dumb” hardware like hairbrushes can actually become useful service providers. The Kérastase Hair Coach, as designed by L'Oréal, only recommends Kérastase hair products — also by L'Oréal.

Because when one is in a store, they might decide their hair care products by price and opt for the cheapest option. When the brush is in their hand actively pleading with them about buying better hair care products, the context for commerce is rather different.

Which perhaps is the bigger lesson behind all the robot concierges and smart tech on offer. The consumer who motivates pretty much everything we see at CES is very different than the consumer being designed for even a decade ago. For that consumer, most commerce happened in a store, and most of it was covered with a card or cash.

The consumer of tomorrow is in a store — so to speak — when she is brushing her hair, and payments can happen with a command (“Hairbrush, I need leave-in conditioner now”) instead of a swipe or a tap.

And as the consumers are changing, the electronics are changing with them — and making sure they can swap commerce context as quickly as the thought can occur to them.

What will that mean for the retailers and payments players who are also rushing to catch on with the rapid-fire evolution of connected and contextual buying?

PYMNTS CEO Karen Webster will be talking about just that when she takes to the stage for the Consumerization of Digital Payments Platform tomorrow morning.

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