As mentioned in last week’s post, I just got back from attending the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.
Recapped are some of the key trends I observed at the show.
- The Smart Home
- Wearable Technology
- Optimizing and Monitoring Health and Fitness
- UHD Televisions – 4K, 8K, and more
- Automobile Technologies
- Drones, Drones, Drones
- Robotics and Coding
- Virtual Reality
- 3D Printers for Everyone
As promised, I will attempt in this post to convey what theses trends mean generally, and more specifically may mean to inventors.
Early Adopter Products: Scattered Offerings, High Risk, Quick Obsolescence
Early technical advances often take years or even decades before they translate into tangible products for the public. The development lifecycle can cover a large span of years.
For example, cellular phone systems began rolling out to major US metropolitan areas in the early 80s. It took over 20 years before truly elegant cell phones like the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy phones emerged offering consumers many mouth-watering options.
This development lifecycle has shrunk from decades then to 3 to 5 years now.
But then as now early product offerings tend to be like a shotgun: scattered into a broad pattern. The Smart Home offers smart appliances, smart lighting systems, alarm systems, monitoring systems and many other items from profound to trivial. Within a few years offerings will converge into a much smaller set of specific products that provide clear benefits to consumers.
New products in the early development lifecycle face great risk: initial costs are high, public demand is unknown. Inventors risk putting a lot of capital into products that very soon become the modern equivalent of the 8-track tape: yesterday’s news.
A second take away I had from CES is that in a high-tech environment, incremental improvements result in product obsolescence.
For example, I may be delighted with my $1,500 3D printer that can print small plastic items in 24 hours. I’m delighted until I discover a $1,000 printer that does the same thing or one that can print in a few hours, instead of 24 hours, or one that can print not only plastic, but also fiberglas and Kevlar. I saw all of the above on offer at CES.
As an inventor, I dread spending lots of capital for IP, packaging and development only to roll out a new product that is already obsolete compared to others on offer.
Go Big, Go Fast, Then Get Out
My best advice to any inventor who wishes to create a new, innovative high-tech product is: go big, go fast, then get out.
Because of all the trends described above, the shelf life of any new high-tech item is likely to be short. If you sink your nest egg into a technology product that takes years to development, failure is guaranteed.
So, how do you go big, go fast, and then get out? As John Lennon famously posited: I get by with a little help from my friends. Simply put, you will need a friend with plenty of capital and resources who can move quickly to market, and in a big way. Your strategy is to license to them. First, you must convince them that your IP is really fantastic and there is a lot of money to be made by going fast and big. Good luck, this is very difficult to do.
Perhaps you could take a completely different approach: invent something very simple and inexpensive to produce that solves a problem many people have. Go browse the As Seen on TV aisle of any major retailer and you’ll see cheap and simple on display. Ten years later people are still buying the Ped Egg and Snuggie – they are still not obsolete.