Hanson Hosein was once embedded with the U.S. military in Iraq as a correspondent for NBC News. So it means something when he describes his experience at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas as something he doesn’t want to soon repeat.

I’ve never been in a war zone, but I’ve been to CES, and I have a sense for what he means.

CES THROUGH THE YEARS 

1999: DVDs, Personal Digital Assistants, Digital Satellite Systems, GPS Navigation

2000: Bluetooth, audio, video, computing, telephony and integrated systems

2001: Microsoft Xbox, Home networks, Micro-PDA, Dedicated Internet and Email devices, mobile transactions

2002: Wireless, DTV, LCD TV/DVD, Home Entertainment Hubs

2003: Bluetooth, 802.11, 3G, satellite radio, OLED, Digital Media Receivers, HD PVRs.

2004: Thin display technologies, imaging, mobile electronics, wireless, home networking and entertainment

2005: HDTV, audio, accessories, home networking, mobile, video and wireless

2006: HDTV, OLED, Mobile information and entertainment, Google keynote.

2007: HDTV, high performance audio and home theater, Windows Vista

2008: Digital entertainment, HDTV, green technology, Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD

2009: 3D HDTV, OLED, green technology, Internet TV, digital downloads

2010: Connected TV, green technologies, tablets and mobile apps

2011: Tablets, wireless 4G LTE, connected TVs, smart appliances, electric vehicles

2012: Ultrabooks, OLED TVS, Android 4.0 tablets, next-gen smartphones, 3D printers

With this year’s CES now history, there will be lots of handwringing about the future of the consumer technology industry’s big trade show, particularly with Microsoft deciding that this will be its last year as an exhibitor and keynoter.

Ed Bott says he’s done with the show. I’m not quite there. As a longtime CES attendee, I still see value in the annual trek to Las Vegas. It helps me identify trends and products to watch, meet and reconnect with people I need to know, and find interesting stories to write, not only during the show but afterward.

I know how many people would gladly trade places with me, and I consider it a privilege to go.

Beyond providing an early glimpse of all the latest and greatest gadgets — the stuff that will be shipping this year — CES offers a good sense for technologies that will take a little longer to hit the mainstream. Examples of those longer-term trends this year included new ways of using sensors and augmented reality to help measure, understand and navigate our world.

But the sheer magnitude of the show — a record 153,000 attendees this year — makes it almost unmanageable. Every year I get home and see reports about things that I wish I had a chance to get to. That seems to be happening more than usual this year, despite feeling like I worked harder than ever to see everything I could.

At the opening press preview, there were so many media that it took me two hours of trying, off and on, to wedge my way up to the Lenovo booth to see the company’s latest computers. Later in the week, I almost didn’t make it into a key Nokia event despite showing up 90 minutes early. Throughout the week, in the middle of what should have been tech heaven, the wireless coverage was laughable.

I know it has always been this way, to some extent. But to me, at least, it felt worse this year. I wasn’t surprised to hear that the attendance set a new record.

In short, technology hasn’t been able to keep pace with its own show.

Even in a world of webcasts, there is still a place for in-person events, and real value in experiencing new technologies in person. So I’m sure I’ll be back to CES.

But I won’t be disappointed if others decide not to go.

Comments

  • Guest

    On the one hand, there is so much technology that you have to see in person to appreciate. You can’t evaluate a new television just by looking at photos of it on your existing monitor, for example.

    On the other hand, many new technology pieces simply don’t need to be shown at an expo. New PCs? Post the specs and stand back. New tablets? Send a review model and let us hack at it for a while — those canned demos are scarcely worthy of a “hands-on” fluff piece on Engadget. Next-gen smartphones won’t work when you have 153,000 nerds trying to live-videostream their standing room spot at a presser. Frankly, anything smaller than a 60″ television should simply be mailed to worthy journalists for critique. The rest of us will see it at Fry’s in 6 months so that we can judge it for ourselves.

  • Guest

    Incidentally, speaking of “wishing for a little less,” the “You might like” section for this article has four articles, three of which are about some dead girl named Arfa. I’m wishing for a little less deathwatch coverage from my tech news sites, thank you very much.

  • http://twitter.com/virtualawrence L Lam

    Interesting that the crowds were larger despite the show being shorter. This year, it didn’t extend into the weekend

  • http://www.intrinsicstrategy.com FrankCatalano

    I haven’t had cause to visit CES in recent years, but recall approaching it with a mix of excitement and dread. There’s a certain economy of scale in getting everyone and thing together in one place (gauging crowd reaction to new tech is especially interesting, in addition to just seeing it). But I think CES, like COMDEX and Internet World before it, might simply be too big and too expensive to efficiently put interested parties together in person anymore.

    It may be that CES needs to split into still large, but manageable, vertical shows that are not held at the same time, focused on certain broad market segments (automotive, etc.). Or it risks suffering the same fate as COMDEX, Internet World and the original E3: collapse.

  • Guest

    From a slightly different angle. . .

    Taxi driver from airport to LVCC, paraphrased, “The tourists haven’t come back.  We only live on conventions now.  This convention will have to cover my bills for the next 2-3 months.”

    Yes, the main LVCC was a zoo (a zoo filled with school groups; and was the only place in the World where there were lines at the Men’s Room but not the Women’s).

    If you split your time between LVCC and the Venetian Halls (especially those two mid-size rooms with tiny start ups), plus had the benefit of hand sanitizer dispensers lining the hallways, it wasn’t all that bad.  Plus, stay at the downtown Hotels, so you don’t fight with any traffic going/coming from show (This year a huge number of CES attendees were lined up at the SDX bus stop; where last year it was vacant); heck, I even saw Verizon guys breakfasting at Du-Par’s.

    Vegas can sustain CES growing by another 20%.  It won’t be easy.  But, this year I found the energy level infectious and positive.  People were there to work, not party, and the discussions were about getting deals done.

    It’s a great way to end the Holidays and kick off the New Year. There’s nothing like it (of course, last year, I got the CES flu that knocked me out for 3 weeks, so I wasn’t quite so upbeat about it myself).

  • Guest2

    From a slightly different angle. . .

    Taxi driver from airport to LVCC, paraphrased, “The tourists haven’t come back.  We only live on conventions now.  This convention will have to cover my bills for the next 2-3 months.”

    Yes, the main LVCC was a zoo (a zoo filled with school groups; and was the only place in the World where there were lines at the Men’s Room but not the Women’s).

    If you split your time between LVCC and the Venetian Halls (especially those two mid-size rooms with tiny start ups), plus had the benefit of hand sanitizer dispensers lining the hallways, it wasn’t all that bad.  Plus, stay at the downtown Hotels, so you don’t fight with any traffic going/coming from show (This year a huge number of CES attendees were lined up at the SDX bus stop; where last year it was vacant); heck, I even saw Verizon guys breakfasting at Du-Par’s.

    Vegas can sustain CES growing by another 20%.  It won’t be easy.  But, this year I found the energy level infectious and positive.  People were there to work, not party, and the discussions were about getting deals done.

    It’s a great way to end the Holidays and kick off the New Year. There’s nothing like it (of course, last year, I got the CES flu that knocked me out for 3 weeks, so I wasn’t quite so upbeat about it myself).

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