Virtual CES, new gadgets, -175K people

  
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For years, tech journalists like myself have been making the January trek to Las Vegas for several days of looking at new gadgets, gizmos and a glimpse of what future tech might be like.

The venue was CES, formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show, the largest trade show of its type, attracting upwards of 175,000 people.

I’ve been attending for more years than I care to reveal, despite the fact that most of the stuff we see at CES never comes to market, and the best consumer priced products of the year aren’t shown there, but held for showcasing at their own events by Apple, Google, Amazon and others.

For every Ring doorbell, which did launch at CES, there’s also past duds like the IO Hawk intelligent mobility device and Toshiba’s robot, which never got off the ground.

They came to Vegas, rolled their dice in hopes of a Lucky 7, but came up short. It happens.

The new, virtual CES kicks off Monday, and I’m thrilled that in the middle of a pandemic, I won’t have to stand so close to all those people. I applaud the CTA, the non-profit group that stages CES, for putting up the good fight and trying to re-imagine the show as a virtual event.

Yes, we’ll still be able to hear industry leaders opine about the future and debate trends, we’ll even get to see lots of gadgets. We just won’t really see them.

Products will be introduced in slickly produced demo reels that I’m sure will all look great on our computer screens. But those are easy. I remember being wowed a few years back by a new drone at CES they said could fly like a frisbee and return to you, without anyone controlling it. I was there to say, “I don’t care about your prototype, I want to take it outside and see it fly like your video tells me it will,” and from their answer, I knew immediately the product was indeed vapor ware.

Most of the coolest stuff on the showroom floor, beyond the new TVs and some smart home gadgets, never got beyond the prototype stage. Most of the TVs, including the ones that have already been announced for this year, are bigger and more expensive than ever. And I should note that Samsung will introduce a new lineup of Galaxy phones this week, but not from CES.

The fun of CES was walking around, even surrounded by all those people, and discovering something that seemed cool. Some wacky gadget that would probably never see the light of day, but maybe, just maybe, it would. TVs, the bigger the better, dominated the show, always, even though they were priced out of reach for the average consumer. Companies trotted them out as “look at me” showpieces that signaled to the world just how cool the company was.

This year, somehow, CES promises over 1,000 “exhibitors” showing their new stuff (starting Tuesday), along with Monday press conferences from the likes of LG (at 5 a.m. California time!) Sony and Samsung to display their new lineups. Those sessions in the past had little room for questions as well, so I’m expecting mostly slick unveils.

Which is okay. Apple has done this so well with the iPhone 12 product launches that I predict it will never go back to the live events it used to stage. Why leave anything for chance when you can control the final outcome?

I’ll be watching on Monday so you don’t have to. That’s the line, but the truth is, the CES, even as a virtual event, is open only to media and industry pros, so you couldn’t watch. I think that’s a big mistake.

That CES gets to return to Vegas in 2022 is still questionable. With 175,000 people jammed together? If you’re going to re-imagine the show, open it up to the world. These are the customers after all.

The website CNET is going to live stream the press conferences, and Engadget is going to continue with the Best of CES awards.

And I’ll fill you in on the next edition with what I see. My expectations are low. There’s no question CES can stage interesting panels and keynotes, but who wants to sit in front of their computer for longer than an hour to watch?

I’ll let you know how long I fare.

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On a P.S., note I should point out that in the last newsletter, I said I didn’t think the alternative conservative Parler network was long for this world. That was on Saturday. By Sunday, Apple, Amazon and Google had disassociated itself with the app, and its founder said it was unlikely Parler would be able to continue.

Meanwhile, we hope to keep on, thanks to you! Big shout-out to Paula for being the 1,000th subscriber to the newsletter! And keep those subscriptions coming everyone! Thanks for reading, watching and listening, and don’t forget to click REPLY or the HEART tab to let me know what you think!

Jeff