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In many ways, the Consumer Electronics Show is the bellwether for corporate innovation, setting the course for innovation departments as much as it reveals where new products are heading. If you look beyond the ubiquitous new television sets with an insane amount of pixels or the drones buzzing through the air, CES reveals what’s happening on the white boards of design labs around the world. It also delivers an impressive array of cutting-edge (and sometimes absurd) innovation.

At CES 2017, a few trends stood out from thousands of gadgets and products on display.

Experimentation is King

Every year, CES is full of reactions to new technology. After Apple revealed the iPad in April 2010, CES 2011 delivered an endless array of imitators and touchscreens (the touchscreen trend has yet to slow down). Televisions, a CES mainstay, have settled into a predictable growth curve of innovation and new features, while other areas of the show are built on the willingness to experiment.The most interesting products at CES are always reactions to last year’s next big thing – in 2015, drones reigned supreme. In 2017, it appears the race to add artificial intelligence and voice integration into products and services is the new frontier for innovation. While this shows the value of experimentation, it also reveals a more vital trend for innovators.

Open Innovation

Open source software has long been a staple of the software development world, but innovators have been understandable hesitant to look to external partners or resources for progress. Yet as we’ve seen from our interview with Equifax’s Jeff Anop, openness in the innovation lab can be critical to the success of new ventures. At CES, nothing highlighted this trend more than Alexa Voice Services, the heart and soul of the Amazon Echo. Companies throughout CES showcased hundreds of Alexa-enabled devices, from cars to refrigerators to robots.

Alexa, and competitors like Google Assistant and Microsoft Home Hub, show that voice commands are the new frontier of user interface and app integration. Smart software partnerships are not necessarily anything new for innovators, yet Alexa’s prominence at CES highlights an important lesson for the innovation lab: successful products solve for the needs of your customers first to support long-term business goals.

The Connected Car

Just like the smart home and all its sundry IoT devices, the connected car has been a CES mainstay for the last few years. It’s also been a key target for many corporate innovation labs, from automakers to wireless communications providers. This year at CES showed connected cars may finally be at a tipping point as hundreds of companies demoed services and devices aimed at connecting your home, car and life.

We’ll see even more movement in this space in the coming weeks as automakers continue to reveal highly promising self-driving cars and their own software efforts at industry events.The connected car represents a true shift in the business model for many companies, including automakers – who may need to shift from businesses that interact with customers once every few years to companies that create meaningful customer experiences on a daily basis.

Smart Devices (May) Have Gone Too Far

In an endless quest to make the most niche products give you feedback and anxiety, product companies introduced hundreds of new connected devices this year. Products introduced at CES 2017 included a WiFi- and Bluetooth-enabled hairbrush ($200), a smart toaster oven and a smart garbage can that scans grocery items as you throw them away and adds to your next shopping list. Like many failed innovation products (and the opposite of what we’ve seen above), many smart products seem to be the result of asking “Can we do this?” instead of, “Should we do this?”

Whether they like it or not, most companies in the world have become software companies in one way or another – digital consumers demand it. Unfortunately, that shift to software has spawned waves of new devices that do little to actually improve the lives of consumers. As the marketplace shifts to adopt new technologies, like Alexa or Google Assistant, innovators will need to become laser-focused on delivering true value instead of more devices with a touchscreen or WiFi.

Gadgets from shows like CES may reveal the face of product innovation, amplifying both the good and bad of the corporate innovation world – but there are plenty of exciting things going on behind the scenes at innovation labs around the world. As enterprise innovators work to spin up new digital products, businesses and service offerings for their customers, CES should serve as a reminder of the ups and downs of new product development.

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