Is the Consumer Electronics Show on its last leg?

  • There were great events and some amazing things at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES.   Warner Brothers started off by blind siding Toshiba with a move to go exclusively with Blu-Ray, Bill Gates set the date he would officially leave Microsoft with a great video, Intel pointed towards the future of really cool tiny computers and AMD brought out its Live Ultra home entertainment platform. But I still walked away with the impression that the grand CES may be dying.   

    I used to look forward to CES and Comdex every year, but Comdex (before it died) became too large, too complicated, and too painful to go to over time.  If you have been following this industry, its trends and products for some time, then you may remember that the end result was that Comdex (first Comdex Spring and then Comdex Fall) suddenly started bleeding attendees and, in an amazingly short time, the show was shut down. At the time, I was on the Comdex advisory council and I’m seeing the same see the same kind of ugly trend going on at CES.

     A lot of the reason folks go to shows is to have fun.  It’s the parties and social events that provide the extra incentive to keep going and it is often at these events where the big deals are made.  

    But as Comdex and now CES grew, the shows became increasingly painful to navigate.  Las Vegas, which seems to have done a great job at making the travel around town as painful as possible during big shows (their monorail is so far away from the strip that it only makes sense to stay at the MGM if you want to use it), and most of the streets around the convention areas gridlock. One of my peers rents a bicycle at the show to get around (they won’t let you use Segway scooters anymore) and I ended up walking miles (and generally passing cars stuck in gridlock while doing it).  

    But, by the time you are though your first day, you are generally too tired to enjoy the nightlife and by the end of the show, you are somewhat surprised you still have the energy to pack your bags and get to the airport.  

    Not only visitors are experiencing this trend, also companies have been asking me whether they still need to go to the show as they are noticing the big clients they used to see are no longer coming and their traffic is mostly folks who are just curious and don’t really want to buy anything.   

    Splitting the show up

    I don’t understand why the automotive stuff needs to be at the same show as the rest of the electronic gear and the PC stuff and TV stuff could easily move to different times as well.   It seems like the show kind of caught a lot of what dropped out of Comdex and the end result was much less focus and fun.  

    I also think the Consumer Electronics Association should think long and hard about returning the fun to this show.  Every successful show I’ve been a part of was memorable not because of the business that was done but because of how much fun people had during that week.  It is these stories that compel others to come and if folks are just saying what a horrid time they had and how they never want to go again, which is now often the case, folks will avoid this show and that doesn’t lead to long term success.

    Finally, some effort has to be made to allow the really good offerings to stand out more.   CES has contests which choose the best products but even when I’ve been a judge, I haven’t known which products won.  You simply can’t see everything, but there needs to be a better pointer to what you really need to see.   This isn’t just because it’s good for the vendors but because it helps improve the overall market and decrease the amount of absolute shit that is announced at this show.  The fact that Steve Jobs, with one product (the iPhone), eclipsed all of CES should be a wake-up call for the show organizers.  

    Show high points: From Wireless TVs, to products that would upset Steve Jobs  

    The two best monitors I saw were from Dell/AlienWare they had a wrap around prototype that was probably more than I could afford and one built out of glass that was a piece of art (and not cheap either).   On laptops I loved the new Lenovo line (this company did impressively well for their first year at CES) and lusted for the new Asus Lamborghini. On TVs, the Samsung OLED sets were stunning and well worth the time to see what is likely the next generation of TVs. Samsung also had the best Media Extender solution (the media extender part is modular so you can update this technology without tossing out a perfectly good flat panel).   

    The most interesting phone was the Neonode, which remains the closest thing I’ve seen to what an iPhone Nano might become.  I didn’t see anything that beat the HP Blackbird for desktop PCs design, which just shows just how well that product was done.   The most interesting automotive audio product I’d never heard of was something called 3dradio, which was kind of like a multi-feed super TiVo for your car.   

    I was struck by how different Intel and AMD approached the show.   AMD showcased a broad array of CE offerings in natural settings largely founded by ATI technology and Intel had the best partner focused showcase I’ve ever seen them do.  For once, one didn’t seem to be copying the other and I thought the difference reflected positively on both.  

    HP had given a number of us their new GPS system, which actually turned out to be rather helpful getting around Las Vegas on foot this year, but it was their new phone that had many of us drooling.  However it was the connected GPS systems that caught my attention and it amazed me how many were using MSN Direct.   

    I was impressed with Westinghouse’s wireless TV effort. Why can’t all flat panel TVs be like this?
    On the fun side, participated in the Tiger Direct Build Your Own PC Race for Charity, a traditional event for journalists and analysts that has been running at CES for many years. I came in 14th out of 30  beating at least Roger Kay and Jim Louderback (remember, it’s not how high you place its beating people you know that counts).  If I ever meet the guy that put the HG monitor on-switch on the back of the black monitor and labeled it in black I’ll have a serious talk with him. I had a shot at first but thought I’d black screened when it turned out the monitor wasn’t even on in the first place (otherwise it was a really nice 28” monitor).  Still, that part was actually fun.   

    Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts.  Inquiry Analysts are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic, on how to best take advantage of them.  Currently he provides his services to most of the major technology and media companies.