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Opinion: Does CES have a future?

12 Jan 2012

I’m currently attending CES for the first time, joined in Las Vegas by another 140,000 industry attendees (it’s not open to the public). On Monday, Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer gave his final keynote presentation at CES, as Microsoft has chosen to no longer be the biggest participant here. They cite the timing as not being relevant in relation to their product release schedules.

The move mirrors what Apple did a few years ago when they announced that 2009 would be their last year attending MacWorld in Boston.

So it begs the question – are conference such as CES still relevant in this world of fast moving product cycles and online product launches?

CES began way back in 1967. I couldn’t imagine what products would have been on show back then, so I spoke with Ed Bott (ZD writer, former managing editor of PC World). Ed has been coming to CES on and off since 1978 and indicates that white goods made up the biggest category of products. No doubt audio and TV have always been a feature too, and remain so today.

As I’ve wandered the massive halls that make up the Las Vegas Convention Centre I feel some renewed enthusiasm for CES.

Being able to see so many products close up in person is valuable, even if many of them have been on the market for months or even a year or two.

There is nothing like being in the one place in the world where so many new products and prototypes are shown off for the first time, and for now CES is still the place where you can get that opportunity. Some of the newest products I’ve seen are due for release very soon; others, like Windows 8 tablets and the 2013 Ford Fusion Energi, will come in the second half of the year, and Sony’s 55-inch glasses-free  3D TV may still be a year or two away from widespread availability.

Another aspect I’ve enjoyed about CES is making real, in-person connections. Having direct access to product managers and product specialists is invaluable too.

So, while CES may shrink in size, I think it’s here to stay for at least the next 5 years. After that it’s anyone’s guess where the industry will head as more and more retail purchasing moves online and away from hands-on experiences. As those changes take place, industry attendees may find less reason to get up close and personal with so many products.


Paul Spain presents the NZ Tech Podcast; go here to listen to his coverage of CES.