What happens once your gadget grabs the headlines and makes it big? Once the Kickstarter succeeds? Once celebrities start getting their pictures taken with your gadget?
The panel included: Left to right – Eric Migicovsky from Pebble, Brendan Iribe from Oculus, Michael Buckwald from LeapMotion, and Avi Reichental from 3D sytems. Far right is moderator Brian Heater of Engadget.
Mostly, it depends on the community around it, according to four CEOs who shared the stage for a panel discussion Wednesday at CES in Las Vegas.
Consumers can expect more apps, more functionality and maybe even a product release or two at next year’s CES, the CEOs said, but the future is far from clear. For the Pebble smartwatch, Oculus Rift VR headset, LeapMotion gesture control interface and any number of 3D printers, the coming year will be a time of evolutionary – not revolutionary – advances.
Avi Reichental is the CEO of 3D Systems, which debuted a dozen consumer-oriented devices at CES 2014, including models for use with ceramics and edible materials. He said that for the consumer 3D printing market, the challenge will be to simply make it further into the public consciousness.
“For us, it’s all about mainstreaming 3D printing as a part of popular culture,” he said.
Much of what that will entail is unclear – but Reichental hopes that, as 3D printing grows in popularity, an ecosystem of software developers and product creators takes root.
“The traditional lines between a device company and a software company are blurring,” he said. “It becomes experiential and platform-driven.”
The concept of an ecosystem is key to the future growth of the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality headset designed for use with video games – the device itself is tough enough, argues CEO Brendan Iribe, but the company depends entirely on game developers to build support for the Rift into their products.
“For our product, we constantly need a lot of content,” he said. “It’s not going to be us that creates those ultimate, Holy-Grail experiences, it’s going to be the community.”
And that’s generally a good thing, according to Michael Buckwald, co-founder and CEO of gesture control company LeapMotion. Developers are already motivated, they simply need a platform from which to work – though the novelty of something like LeapMotion isn’t an unalloyed advantage.
“The fact that you have to start from scratch and be really creative is both the greatest obstacle and the biggest reason why so many developers are attracted to the platform,” he said. “So many of the developers that are working on Leap; yes, they want to create businesses, yes, they want to sell the app, but most importantly, they want to be innovative.”
But what’s actually next? It’s tough to say, but there are certainly ideas out there – the CEOs even kicked around several ideas on stage, like combining 3D printing with motion control for tactile feedback, though with varying degrees of seriousness.
Pebble founder and CEO Eric Migicovsky wants to make sure his smartwatch continues to build on its successful Kickstarter and stays on top of major potential use cases.
“One thing we’re going to be working on over the next year are contextual apps,” he said. “For us, we don’t think that the best way to work with your watch is actually through interacting with it by pressing buttons, flipping through menus and stuff like that – we really want to provide the experience that changes automatically as you live your life.”
How it all shakes out in the end, however, is still anybody’s guess.
Email Jon Gold at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.