It’s weird week. Strange and oddly familiar. You are staying in the same hotel in a room that is nearly identical to the one you have stayed in for the past 10 years or so. You see friends and colleagues you haven’t seen in a while. Everyone is three years older and a little worse for wear. A global pandemic will do that to humans.
Last year was supposed to be your triumphant return to the show, after two years. But you got a chill when omicron numbers started to skyrocket around the holidays. The subsequent vacation travel, along with the models flying in from all over the world, was cause enough for concern. And I was far from alone. Attendance numbers – which reached 170,000 in 2020 – have fallen to around 40,000, which is a 75% drop in attendance.
The year in between — 2021 — has never been a CES in person. The CTA, which put the event in motion, finally made the right decision and went virtual for the first time in its history. That was kind of a mess. Simple infrastructure was not in place for an event of this size and scope. One also suspects that the CTA would rather not let people get used to covering such shows roughly, for fear that they would deem it unnecessary to return.
But the world is slowly getting back to normal, and so is CES. It’s a bit like going back to your old school a few years after graduation. There are some familiar faces and some new ones. For better or for worse, life went on without you. Hell, the school even created a great new wing. In this case, it’s the gleaming West Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. With the South Hall more or less closed for the event, the growing army of hoppers has since immigrated here. At some point when we weren’t looking, CES became a car show.
In part, that’s due to timing — one of CES’ biggest strengths and weaknesses. Power, in the sense that it’s the premiere of the year. Weak because who really wants to think (stress) over the big show during holiday dinner or sitting on a plane on January 2nd?
In the weeks leading up to the event, the CTA announced that they were expecting 100,000 people to attend the event. That’s nowhere near pre-pandemic levels, but it’s certainly a respectable bounce back to a live event. After the dust has cleared, adjust that number up to 115,000. Speaking of pure anecdotes, it didn’t happen feelings That high, but sentiment is certainly no substitute for official attendance numbers.
I will say, there were places (large parts of Central Hall, for example) that felt as crowded as any year before. I definitely felt like trying to grab lunch in the cafeteria on the first day. Other venues, such as the North Hall, have appeared largely empty the few times I have returned. I’m not sure that bodes particularly well for a concentration of robotics companies there. Maybe I jumped the gun with my own Title: “Consumer Robot Show”Even if the tongue was semi-implanted in the cheek.
Most, if not all, of the media I spoke to sent fewer people than in 2020 for a variety of reasons. First, we have all adapted to remote coverage. Secondly, many people are still (rightfully) worried about a pandemic. Turns out, he hasn’t actually gone away, despite our best efforts to pretend otherwise. Third, the press is being crushed again by the economic downturn. Budgets are shrinking and many outlets simply have fewer reporters.
The full name is CES International for obvious reasons. One could make a fairly credible argument that CES 2020 was one of the first major events for the COVID-19 super virus. However, there are still travel restrictions. Most notably China. One day after the show officially ended, the Wall Street Journal ran aground headline, “China reopens to the world as international travel restrictions end.” China is obviously a big player on the scene, and restrictions will always hurt your bottom line. A lot of places were well represented in the show, including Korea and France.
I discussed this a bit in the preview post, but it’s worth mentioning again. The CTA urges it so adamantly that we call it “CES,” not the “Consumer Electronics Show.” pedantic? Definitely. Says? at all. The organization wants CES to be more things for more people. This includes cars, robots, and a lot of software/apps. There are ways in which the event is still very much tied to tradition, but its organizers have also done a good job of adapting its scope.
Size too. CES is sprawling. It controls the city – or at least the area around the Strip – and sometimes feels like a makeshift city in its own right. Like any metropolitan area, it has pockets of concentration and its share of traffic jams. If you know what’s good for you, you wouldn’t try to catch a car outside the Venetian Expo (RIP, The Sands) around 6 p.m. You should also know that you will need a 20-30 minute buffer, regardless of your mode of transportation, up to and including the Tesla Small World Tunnel.
For the first time in 11 (!) years, the Adult Entertainment Expo coincided with CES and took the AVN show (the Oscars for porn, if you will) with it. Fun bit of trivia: The whole thing is actually an outgrowth of CES’s adult programming section that existed in the ’80s and ’90s. I regret not having had enough time to check out the event and all of its technology this year. However, we dined at a wonderful vegan restaurant in the new Resorts World tower on our final night, and were able to counteract some of that oversupply. It’s a fun group.
One of the most positive changes to the program in recent years has been the shift in focus to startup culture. There is no doubt that the two floors of Eureka Park are the liveliest section. The kiosks and arcade are much smaller and more packed together. Not everything you see there is a winner, but the people who show it to you show the kind of real excitement you rarely see with the big companies. I wish I had spent more time there, but it just didn’t work out that way this year.
The trend over the past several years is that big companies choose to announce new things at their own stage and time. The move to virtual presses over the past several years has accelerated this. But with the big companies dropping out of the parade, bright-eyed startups are more than happy to fill that void.
As I mentioned in a previous post, this has been the year of putting things on my face. I tried Magic Leap 2, Meta Quest Pro, Vive XR Elite, PSVR2, and Dyson Payne mask. VR/AR/XR reigns supreme again. How that plays out in the broader consumer world, on the other hand, is another question entirely. However, it’s pretty clear that everyone but Sony and its pure gaming headsets are eyeing the projects. It’s as simple as where the money is right now, at least until quality headphones drop in price dramatically.
Another theme I’ve found talking to people in this world is getting really excited about playing Apple headphones. The consensus with these companies seems to be that a rising tide will lift all ships here, as the company revitalizes the scene. The fact of the matter is that it’s been the “next thing” for so long there’s real lethality here.
Same for cryptocurrency/web3, albeit for completely different reasons. There was a constant drumbeat of bad news for this class and many people who were shouting their message from the rooftops are now licking their wounds. I haven’t been shy about my feelings about technology, and it was honestly a relief not to be bombarded with such pitches this year.
No doubt my inbox will be full of them this time next year.
The TechCrunch staff has spent the past several days creating their own Hot or Not lists, so I’m going to include them here:
Some of the gloss about smart home technology has faded. It’s hard not to see that reflected in the Amazon Echo’s struggles. To say the least, things clearly haven’t gone quite as planned for many companies. However, it is encouraging to see some sort of united front in the form of the Matter Alliance.
Meanwhile, health technology remains an ongoing concern, whether it’s home fitness or wearables. We’ve seen a widespread push to get some of these products to be taken more seriously as medical devices, and that’s been on quite a lot here. Meanwhile, it was troublesome to see what happened Mojo visionhaving covered several CESes.
The economy loomed large, of course. In general, the pace of new product launches seems to have slowed down in the industry. The end of 2022 didn’t see the same kind of rush of new products we usually get before the holidays. The reasons are clear. For one thing, money is tight and inflation is high, so people spend less on non-essential things. On the other hand, supply chain constraints have an appreciable impact on the industry’s ability to ship.
Before the show, I asked Sony what they plan to show off. For the first time I can remember, I received an official statement from a rep telling me what a company it was No an offer. “Sony will not be sharing any TV details during CES 2023,” a Sony spokesperson told me. However, please keep an eye out for the next announcement soon. This is new. However, the company does have movie trailers.
I wouldn’t say this feels like a transitional year — just that that can be said for pretty much every CES from the past decade. I also realize that it’s totally fair to judge him by his first full show in three years. It was weird, and there was no way it could be anything else. For a CTA, attendance exceeding what seemed like optimistic expectations is a really good sign. For us, I’m sure we’re not alone in rethinking how we approach CES moving forward.