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An Unexpected Highlight Of A CES Lacking Soul

Y&R’s Rick Liebling looks beyond the phablets at CES and sees few products with humanity (but tons of cases for products). One land-line-based gadget stood out.

An Unexpected Highlight Of A CES Lacking Soul

The marriage of the Consumer Electronics Show and Las Vegas is a fitting one: Both present, and are reliant upon, the consumer’s desire for a hyper-reality of beauty, luxury, and demonstrations of larger-than-life opportunity.

But, as Creative Culturalist for Y&R New York, my interest isn’t so much in Ultra HD TV sets, or phablets, but rather the ripples in the zeitgeist and what that means for culture—and ultimately our clients. What I saw at CES 2013 was a reflection of what I’m seeing in the culture at large—high-end products, low-end products, and not much in-between.


Yes, if you wanted to see the future of the Connected Home (accessing Pandora from your refrigerator) or curved OLED TV displays, CES certainly delivered the goods. But I was left thinking that next year one would see, primarily, these same innovations, or similar ones, just a little bit bigger/brighter/thinner than this year’s models (and I am referring to the electronics, not the booth babes).

But what I was looking for, what I wanted to see, was a brand that was looking to offer something more. Maybe CES isn’t the right venue, but with the tech wizardry dialed up, I was left wondering who was creating products with a little bit of soul or humanity. True, Apple was a no-show (as were Google and Microsoft), but I saw almost nothing that touched me emotionally. For the most part the experience of the show floor left me cold. One exception was Intel, who ran video showcasing their involvement with 10x10 and their Girl Rising film project. I’m sure many other companies have equally worthy social good or philanthropic activities, but none were on display at CES that I saw. This is just the latest endeavor in Intel’s commitment to youth education and demonstrates their passion for helping future generations.

On the other end of the spectrum, one could be forgiven for thinking CES stood for Cases for Electronics Show. When the U.S.—or even global—economy recovers, it may be thanks to our apparent need for, and desire to, encase our gadgets in all manner of protective, yet attractive, cases. From the bedazzled to the sustainable, next holiday season’s bargain bin remainders were on full display.

There was, however, one modest bright spot that I uncovered. A little piece of hardware—a landline phone no less!—that despite its modest presentation really won me over. Tucked in the Eureka Park section over at the Venetian Hotel was Urban Hello. This beautifully designed phone also addresses a real-world need. Virtually every day at my house someone is trying to cradle a phone between their neck and shoulder while folding a load of laundry, or repeatedly saying "what?" while trying to make dinner and use the phone in speaker mode. It seemed almost fitting that the couple launching the product were doing so via Kickstarter.

Beauty and functionality weren’t in short supply at CES this year, but Urban Hello, in their words, "enhances the devices we use in daily life by designing them to fulfill their essential purpose." That sounds a lot more valuable than squeezing a few more pixels on a flat-panel TV.