Tuesday, January 8, 2013

CES 2012, So What

Note:  I wrote this article last year for Technorati.  I bring it forward now to see if anything's really changed. My bet is that it hasn't...

Article originally published on Technorati as CES 2012 So What

CES 2012, so what...

Spend any time on the Internet and it's hard to avoid coverage of the Technology industries biggest show and tell.  But is it really?

This year, it seems the big story has centered around LG's 55 inch OLED display and an onslaught of "me too" tablets and ultrabooks.

Oh yeah, and that whole Microsoft pulling out of the show next year thing.  Even their keynote was a yawn inspiring parade of old information and lackluster demonstrations.   As I watched it I thought to myself that it was the first time I've ever seen Steve Ballmer struggle to not look bored.

Now we have the last of the two most recognized names in technology eschewing the event for other venues.  The other notable absence of course being Apple.

It's been suggested that it's far more effective and less costly to make major announcements on the Internet or via more focused events like Microsoft's Build or Apple's Worldwide Developer conference. .  If you're Microsoft or Apple, CES is not the avenue it once was to get your product in front of the consumer.

That makes sense.  CES is supposed to primarily be a venue for manufacturers to test new products out on potential customers.  By "customers" I'm not talking about you and me, rather I'm referring to purchasing agents for Big Box stores like Best Buy and second string manufacturers that want to use components from companies like LG.  So you don't get in unless you're either tech press or in the "industry".  

It seems strange that an event touting itself as a "Consumer Electronics Show" has no interest in showing their wares to consumers.  Instead they'd rather have the information filtered through technology media with their own biases or vendor PR departments.  That may explain why so many innovative products fail to gain any traction in the "real" world.  You can't gauge public interest if you don't give them opportunity to talk to you.
As I've watched the coverage from a number or sources I've noticed that even the best technology press gets little more than a sales pitch and evasion when pressed for details.  With all due sarcasm, it seems completely logical to spend millions on a flashy booth and provide no information on the products it contains.  After all who cares if the product actually exists let alone when it will be released.  In the end it's likely that we could have gained more information from a press release.

I've been to a number of industry tradeshows and I can tell you I'm usually bored after an hour or two.  While a trip to Vegas is usually a good thing I can understand the tech pundits bemoaning having to attend a show like CES.  Let's face it, they were probably bored the first day and spent the rest of the week desperately trying to find something interesting to report

CES gained a lot of its current popularity when Comdex left the scene around 2004.  Even with the exit of Comdex the show currently brings in only 150,000 visitors on average during its yearly run which is quite a bit less than the quarter million in years past.  Perhaps the writing is on the wall and like many brick and mortar retailers, the Internet has a lot to do with the decline.

 It's also possible that the whole concept of CES has become outdated.  Technology changes faster than old avenues of promotion can keep up with making it difficult to forecast demand for six months let alone a year out. 

Another problem is the saturation of product markets.  For example, this year seems to be the year of tablet and ultralight laptops.  What we see is a mild upgrade to devices we already know with little in the way of revolutionary products. 

Take TV's for example.  Everybody knows about HD now and the only big advance we've had is screen size and gimmicks like 3D over the past few years.  OLED is nice as is 4K resolution but it's still just a TV which is still a commodity product no matter how good it looks.  Couple that with astronomical pricing  when they finally decide to release the "upgraded"  product and all that "innovation" goes out the window.
(2013 note:OLED 55" said to be 10K when released only in Japan this summer BTW.  They blame low yields of only 10 to 15 percent of the large OLED panels for the scarcity and price.)

In the end it's likely that CES will eventually fade away in favor of more consumer focused promotions in smaller shows and on the Internet. 

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