Why CES Still Matters

5 minute read

This week’s CES will mark the 37th year I will be attending the largest consumer technology show in the world. Over this time, I’ve seen CES evolve significantly. And despite the naysayers, its role in our world continues to be important and relevant.

I realize that this view flies in the face of many who find the show too crowded, noisy and confusing, having decided to “watch” CES from their Twitter feeds instead of fighting cab lines, paying ridiculous prices for hotels and rubbing elbows with 175,000 of their closest friends. I have been tempted to do this myself, since almost every press conference will be liveblogged and every keynote will be streamed.

But even with those logistical issues, I find the show itself fascinating. The ability to touch and feel products and do one-on-one meetings with vendors makes it all worthwhile. Of course, it’s impossible to cover the whole show, but by doing some pre-event scouting and setting up only the meetings I want to take, it’s still worth making the annual trek to Las Vegas to check out the latest and greatest tech products that will hit the market in 2016.

My first CES was in 1976. Back then it was just a consumer electronics show. I skipped a few years in the late 1970’s, but when I first started attending CES, it was mainly about audio, video and television gear. PCs had not hit the scene back then, and only the most primitive gaming consoles had made an appearance.

The biggest change to CES came in the late 1990’s and early 2000 when the granddaddy of PC shows, Comdex, began to falter. CES had tried to get PC vendors into the show in the early 1990’s, but the two shows were just 40 days apart, and CES itself had lost some of its luster. But with the demise of Comdex, CES started courting the PC crowd. Very soon, CES became a consumer electronics and PC show. Over time, the addition of various spinoffs of the PC industry, such as smartphones, tablets, Internet of Things, wearables and other extensions of our tech world got wrapped into the show too.

This is at the heart of the organization behind CES’s name change. From the beginning, the group that sponsored the show was known as the Consumer Electronics Association, or CEA. But a couple of months ago, it changed its name to the Consumer Technology Association, or CTA, to reflect the broader scope of products now at CES.

This is an important move for the CTA. In the past, the main companies that were part of the organization were mostly from the consumer electronics industry. But today, members include companies from the PC industry, telecom and communications industries and, most recently, most of the major automakers. Some health companies are beginning to make appearances as well.

In fact, two of the three main things I will be researching at CES this year are related to the auto and health industries. Both sectors are taking direct aim at consumers. The CEO of the beleaguered Volkswagen will use his CES keynote to launch the company’s first self-driving car. And all of the major automakers will be at the show to demonstrate how smart their cars have become by using things like Apple’s CarPlay, Google’s Android Auto, and on-board Wi-Fi connectivity.

Meanwhile, major health companies like United Healthcare will be showing off their support for various fitness trackers, as well as displaying how their web services are being used to help people navigate their health issues.

The third area I that I believe will be significant at this year’s CES includes new products in virtual and augmented reality, or VR and AR. While still in their early stages, these technologies are getting closer to impacting all of our personal computing experiences.

I will also be checking out the Chinese companies who are at CES this year. Their increased presence is kind of déjà vu for me. In the early 1990’s, the big Japanese players started embracing CES in a big way. Companies like Sony, Toshiba ad Panasonic made CES the place they showcased their wares, and most still have a big presence at CES today. But Chinese companies like Huawei, Hisense and others have taken out huge booths on this year’s show floor. Some of the Japanese companies are struggling, losing ground to South Korean and Chinese competition. Of course, CTA and the CES show is International, embracing companies from all over the world. But make no mistake, the Chinese have arrived, and they plan to disrupt the traditional CE players as much as possible.

Tim Bajarin is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists, covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc and has been with the company since 1981 where he has served as a consultant providing analysis to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry.

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