CES Takeaways: Caleb Yarian, Associate Partner of Strategy at Work & Co

What are the major takeaways? What did you learn?

While most of the headlines coming out of CES 2020 were about air taxis, fold-able phones and high-speed toothbrushes, being there on the ground, I was more interested in the larger takeaways than companies trying to push a single product. There’s more value in the concepts being shared than actual products. Events like this allow us to spot developing themes and areas of opportunity at a level above the individual products. It lets you see the battleground in newer categories more clearly, and which upstarts are going to offer meaningful challenges to established powerhouses in the years to come. For Work & Co, it’s also just part of testing hypotheses for our clients around the tech investments they should be thinking about in the next two to five years to stay competitive.

What were the major themes?

We were there with our clients from Gatorade, and together we spent time studying products in the health & fitness, wearables, and sports technology spaces. What’s bubbling up in those areas was really interesting. I found myself intrigued by the amount of focus being placed on product design for older users, and the attempts to make those products more accessible by them. In wearable trackers, there was a lot of variety in form factor, from the obvious wristbands to rings to clothing made out of smart textiles. There were many sport-specific trackers as well, built into equipment like bike helmets and soccer balls and shin guards. My bet is the diversity will ultimately narrow a bit in the future, once consumers have discovered the form factors that are least inconvenient and most widely useful to them.

What was most unexpected?

There have always been attempts to make workouts more fun with simulated experiences, but this year there was a stronger showing than ever of AR and VR experiences along these lines. Sure, we’ve probably seen a downhill skiing simulation — but at CES 2020 it got a bit more creative by being a cheetah chasing an antelope, or morphing into a dragon flying over a volcanic landscape. Can brands can actually make those experiences valuable or monetizable anytime soon? I’m not sure. But in any case merging workouts increasingly with gaming seems like something that consumers might be gravitating towards in the future.

What did you see that inspired you?

The best digital products solve real problems. One of my favorites was Code Jumper, a physical coding interface by Microsoft and the American Printing House for the Blind that allows blind and visually impaired kids to learn coding. The interface is fun to use, and the interactive puzzles and games are just as engaging as the ones in all-visual coding apps for kids. The notion of making accessibility something that’s not an afterthought, and really-high quality, is a positive sign and helps raise the bar for all of us.