It’s strange week. Strange and strangely familiar. You are staying in almost the same room you have been staying in the same hotel for the last 10 years. 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 a person.
Last year, you had to make a triumphant return to the show after two years. But you got cold feet when the omiron numbers started popping up over the holidays. The ensuing holiday travel was cause enough for concern, with exhibitors flying in from all over the world. And you were far from alone. Attendance dropped to ~40,000 from 170,000 in 2020, representing a 75% drop in participation.
By 2021, there was no individual CES. The CTA, which hosted the event, ultimately made the right decision and went completely virtual for the first time in its history. It was a peculiar mess. Simple infrastructure was not available for an event of this size and scope. One suspects that the CTA won’t let people get used to covering these kinds of shows virtually, fearing that they’ll see a return as unnecessary.
But the world has slowly returned to normal, and so has 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 built a big, new wing. In this case, the glittering West Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. With the South Hall more or less closed for the event, a growing army of mobility firms have since moved in. When we weren’t looking, CES turned into a car show.
This is partly due to timing – both one of CES’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. Power, in the sense that it is the first show of the year. Weakness because who really wants to think (stress) about a holiday dinner or a big show on January 2nd?
A few weeks before the event, the CTA announced it expected 100,000 people at the event. That’s nowhere near pre-pandemic levels, but it certainly represents a respectable return for a live event. After the dust cleared, he revised that number to 115,000. Speaking purely anecdotally, it did not happen feel it That’s high, but the feelings are certainly no substitute for the official participation numbers.
I will say that there were spots (such as large sections of the Central Hall) that felt as crowded as every year before. It certainly felt like I was trying to eat lunch in the cafeteria on the first day. Other places, like the North Hall, seemed mostly empty when I went back a few times. I’m not sure that the concentration of robot companies there bodes particularly well. I probably jumped the gun with the title “The Consumer Robot Show,” even if it was with tongue half-planted in cheek.
Most, if not all, of the media outlets I spoke to sent fewer people than in 2020 for a variety of reasons. First, we all adapted to remote coverage. Second, many people are still (rightly) worried about the pandemic. Despite our best efforts to pretend otherwise, it hasn’t actually disappeared. Third, journalism is being crushed again by the economic downturn. Budgets are tightening and many stations have fewer reporters.
Its full name is International CES for obvious reasons. A pretty solid case can be made that CES 2020 was one of the first major COVID-19 superspreader events. However, there are still travel restrictions. The most notable is China. The day after the show officially ended, The Wall Street Journal ran the headline, “China Reopens to World as International Travel Restrictions End.” China is obviously a huge player on the scene, and restrictions will regularly hurt your bottom line. Many places were well represented at the show, including Korea and France.
I discussed this a bit in the preview post, but it’s worth mentioning again. CTA is very adamant that we call it “CES” and not the “Consumer Electronics Show.” Pedantic? Of course. you say Absolutely. The organization wants CES to be more for more people. It includes cars, robots and lots of apps/programs. There are ways in which the event is still very much tied to tradition, but its organizers have also done a nice job of adapting its scope.
Size too. CES is expanding. It takes over the city – or at least the area surrounding the Strip – and sometimes feels like a temporary city. Like any urban area, it has its share of pockets and traffic jams. If you know what’s good for you, you won’t be trying to catch a car outside the Venetian Expo (RIP, The Sands) around 6pm. You should also be aware that you will need a 20-30 minute buffer to the Tesla Small World tunnel regardless of mode of transportation.
For the first time in 11 (!) years, the Adult Entertainment Expo coincided with CES and took the AVN Show (the porn Oscars, if you will) with it. A bit of fun trivia: All of this is actually a result of the adult software section of CES that existed in the 80s and 90s. I regret not having time to check out the event and all its unique technology this year. However, on our last night we dined at a great vegan restaurant in the new Resorts World tower and were able to experience some of the overflow from this show. They are a fun bunch.
One of the most positive changes to the show in recent years is its shift in focus to startup culture. There is no doubt that the two floors of Eureka Park are the liveliest part. The stands and aisles are smaller and more closely packed together. Not everything you’ll see there is a winner, but the people who show it to you exude a kind of genuine excitement that you rarely see in larger companies. I would love to spend more time there, but it just didn’t work out that way for me this year.
The trend of the last few years is that big companies prefer to announce new products at their own stages and times. The shift to virtual media in the past few years has only accelerated this. But as big companies walk away from the show, bright-eyed startups are more than happy to fill the void.
As I mentioned in a previous post, this year was the year I put stuff on my face. I tried the Magic Leap 2, the Meta Quest Pro, the Vive XR Elite, the PSVR2, and the Dyson Bane mask. VR/AR/XR excelled once again. How that plays out in the wider consumer world is another question entirely. However, it’s quite clear that Sony and its pure gaming headsets are all looking for enterprise. It’s simple where the money is right now, at least until prices drop significantly for quality headphones.
Another theme I’ve found talking to people in that world is a really enthusiastic feeling around Apple’s headphone game. The consensus with these companies seems to be that a rising tide will lift all boats here as the company revitalizes the scene. The truth of the matter is that this has been the “next thing” for so long that there is real fatigue.
This is the case for crypto/web3, albeit for completely different reasons. There’s been a steady drumbeat of bad news for the category, and most of the people shouting their message from the rooftops are currently licking their wounds. I’m not shy about my feelings about technology, and it’s clearly been a relief not to have these pitches bombed this year.
No doubt this time next year my inbox will be full of them.
The folks at TechCrunch have spent the last few days creating their own “Hot or Not” lists, so I’ll include them here:
Some of the luster has worn off around smart home technology. It’s hard not to see this reflected in Amazon Echo’s struggles. For many companies, at least, it’s clear that things aren’t going as planned. However, it is quite heartening to see some sort of united front in the form of the Matter Alliance.
Health tech, meanwhile, remains an ongoing challenge, whether it’s home fitness or wearables. We’ve seen a widespread push for some of these products to be taken more seriously as medical devices, and that’s very much on display here. Meanwhile, after covering so many CESs, it was a real bummer to see what happened with the Mojo Vision.
The economy certainly looked great. Overall, the pace of new product launches appears to be slowing for the industry. The end of 2022 didn’t see the same type of new products we usually get before the holidays. The reasons are clear. First, money is tight and inflation is high, so people spend less on things they don’t need. On the other hand, supply chain constraints significantly affect the industry’s shipping capacity.
Before the show, I asked Sony what they planned to show. It was the first time I remember getting a formal statement from a representative explaining what the company was not shows. “Sony will not be sharing any TV details during CES 2023,” a spokesperson told me. “However, please stay tuned for an announcement coming soon.” This is new. However, the company did have a movie trailer.
I won’t say it feels like a transitional year—only because that could be said of nearly every CES of the past decade. And I admit it’s a perfectly fair record to judge him by his first full-scale show in three years. It was weird and there was zero chance of anything happening. For CTA’s sake, attendance exceeding what seems like optimistic expectations is actually a good sign. As for us, I’m sure we’re not alone in rethinking how we run CES in the future.