CES 2021: Amidst Pandemic, Tech Adapts to Meet Human Need

The show must go on, as they say, and the adage applies to tech conferences as well.

After viewing the first virtual version of CES — the yearly mega-conference typically held in Las Vegas — we are all wondering what it meant and what it can teach us about tech storytelling in today’s complicated world.

Technology does not develop in a vacuum — dramatic world events such as COVID shift the collective imagination and priorities, accelerating the increasingly personal role tech plays in our lives. In a difficult 2020, we saw technology re-focus on the purpose it serves, improving peoples’ safety and lives, marking a renewed centering of core human needs.

Thankfully, in 2021 CES did shift from the frivolous (remember last year’s rideable airport suitcase?) to the functional and practical. COVID really fueled tech innovation — from smart home products to make your home feel more like an oasis while you’re spending most of your time there, to business solutions for remote workers, to 5G technology to support the unprecedented uptick in bandwidth use. This hits on the high expectations our Brands in Motion global study respondents — 67% said technology liberates their work style, and 75% expected technology to make their lives better. 

Here are some areas where pandemic-inspired innovation stood out at CES 2021:


Health Tech

Cleanliness is top of mind as people do what they can to prevent infection. It’s no surprise that brands developed technologies for purifying water, cleaning the air and making masks more functional, while wearable tech continues to help us quantify ourselves and our surroundings.


Home Tech

Everyone’s spending a lot more time at home, and the winter shutdowns mean things will not improve for many. As a result, tech responds to the changing circumstances of our lives, and hopefully alleviates some of the cabin fever with new products for remote work, new “home gyms”, smart home/consumer goods that help make us more comfortable in our home, Chromebooks for online school and more.


Chips and Silicon Wars

More home tech and devices means more chips, as companies find new and innovative ways to add computers to everyday items. As chip giants compete, the increased number of connected devices — now including pandemic tech such as smart masks — will mean demand will grow. As more “things” are connected to the Internet of Things, will we have enough chips to power the accelerated pace of connected devices?



And of course, CES is still CES. So there was no shortage of new gadgets designed to capture the attention of those who are fortunate enough to be financially stable while quarantined at home, and have income typically spent on going out to eat, travel and other entertainment to focus on devices — from rollable phones to 8K TVs to baby tech, translator devices, and a gadget that mixes custom lipstick colors.



After much pre-show hype about the next-gen wireless technology dominating the conversation, the topic didn’t get a lot of traction after a pedestrian keynote from Verizon on opening day, leaving all of us asking questions like As more and more people work remotely and connect with loved ones digitally, will 5G be a better bath to enable this situation created by the pandemic?” “and “will 5G adoption surpass that of the internet and be widely available to general audiences?”

The theme that tied it all together — even the feeds and speeds — was tech communicators’ focus on how these products impact consumers’ lives. In 2021, smart tech communicators will focus on how tech can fit seamlessly into our lives and improve them. Technology needs to be easy and dependable — 83% of Brands in Motion respondents said brands were capable of providing stability, and if January 2021 has taught us anything, it’s that a little stability would be nice.

Brands need to meet the moment and consider what solutions they can develop with their core competencies to meet the growing needs in a world reeling from global struggles.

January 19, 2021

Matt Ashworth
Senior Vice President, Technology
General Manager, Seattle