LAS VEGAS: Voice-activated assistants were a major feature of the recent CES, but agency executives have cautioned that until these and other smart technologies work more seamlessly together, their impact will remain limited.

Emma Robertson, CEO, Transform; Dom Waghorn, Strategy Director, Syzygy; and Felim McGrath, Trends Manager, GlobalWebIndex, shared with Warc their main takeaways from the annual industry event. (For more, read Warc's exclusive report: Intelligent assistants and the limits of smart tech: Insights from CES.)

"It feels like CES 2017 marked the start of a year when 'smart' devices will actually feel smart," said Robertson. "Yet the overwhelming feeling you get when you explore the smart devices on the market is that we still lack the overarching technology that enables them to all sit together in a way that truly improves everyday life.

The digital ecosystem needs to evolve from "mere islands of smartness", she added. "We're still waiting for the fabric that'll make them [smart devices] easy to manage in a holistic way."

Dom Waghorn, Strategy Director, Syzygy, looked beyond the gimmicks to identify meta-themes, and echoed some of Robertson's observations. "The digitally-connected toaster looks fun, but, critically, you still have to put the bread in. So it's not that smart, really."

He also noted that none of the thousands of new products on show would succeed without harnessing one of the big platforms. "Amazon, Google and Apple cast enormous shadows over the industry. We all play on their terms."

More interesting than the latest new thing, Waghorn suggested, is how existing trends, particularly artificial intelligence and virtual reality, will evolve.

McGrath described this year's show as "Alexa's time in the sun" and observed that marketers need to "come to grips" with new home assistant devices.

But the larger lesson, he argued, was the rise of voice as a method for controlling devices. "Even though smartphones were notably absent from the discussion at CES, it is mobile that stands to be the real winner here," he said, as the buzz surrounding home assistants is likely to increase the awareness of this type of functionality across all devices.

Data sourced from Warc