As CES 2016 opens its doors this week, this is a show typically dominated by appliances and mostly TVs. But one of the biggest commercial successes of 2015 (and the 2015 holiday season) was the unbranded hoverboard. Yes, those Segway-like boards that are best known for catching fire and helping toss a few potential Darwin Awards finalists.
When Amazon decided to pull the plug on hoverboard sales for its vendors, it created a vacuum where consumers ignored the warnings and bought the hoverboards elsewhere, paying hundreds of dollars for a trendy device that is admittedly far cheaper than a real Segway but with a record of danger. In fact, Amazon asked people to toss or recycle boards out of safety concerns.
One of the big expectations in 2016 is that a “hoverboard leader” will finally emerge with safer battery technology and remove the fire danger of its batteries. Given Amazon’s push to create itself as a consumer electronics maker and considering the PR backlash from removing hoverboard sales from Amazon.com, it seems that Amazon could make an interesting PR pivot from banning sales to creating a new market for itself by working with its Chinese manufacturing partners to engineer safer hoverboards. Of course, given that the company’s consumer devices have incendiary names like Fire and Kindle, it would need to come up with a different naming scheme.
Another potential hoverboard 2.0 leader might come from Tesla Motors. The Tesla is a tech-minded person’s car and the company has engineering teams that already specialize in getting the most out of batteries and designing consumer experiences around its vehicles. Plus, Tesla’s shopping mall showrooms could offer an elite “Tesla Board” at those locations to increase revenue and interest, it’s a great way to build a safer board and massive brand awareness. Who wouldn’t want a “Tesla Board” vs. a brand-less board?
Another outlier is Razer. It’s a high tech brand that was featured in April 2015’s Fortune as “This gaming company is worth $1 billion, and you’ve probably never heard of it“. While the company is still a peripheral maker for gaming consoles, PCs and the growing list of wearables, Razer could easily apply its dark black, male-centric brand to a Razer Board. Given the company’s deep roots in gaming culture tournaments and gaming culture’s love of hoverboards, Razer has the relationships and engineering to potentially lead or innovate hoverboards into the 2.0 phase.
Of course, this is all speculation. Given the dangers and the legalities of creating a safer hoverboard 2.0, many big tech companies might simply wait for the fires to die down before they decide to enter the hoverboard market. While it might be too soon for hoverboard 2.0 to emerge at CES 2016, it is going to be a topic that’s bound to be discussed.