The Consumer Electronics Show happens every year in early January, and it's difficult to keep track of all gadget news under CES. But what is CES, can you go and why should you bother?
What is CES?
CES is the "Consumer Electronics Show." It is held in Las Vegas every year in early January. The first CES took place more than fifty years ago.
More than 182,000 people participate in CES, with over 4,400 companies displaying their products. It is according to the Consumer Technology Association, which runs CES. Individuals and companies come from all over the world to participate.
The exhibition is huge, and it spreads over Las Vegas. There are two massive show floors covering the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) and Sands Expo Center, which make up over 2.75 million square feet of total space. In addition, many companies have private suites in the hotels where they only show their products on the invitation.
So can I go?
Sorry! Despite the name, CES is not really for consumers. It is an industry convention centered on consumer electronics, not an electronics program for consumers. It gathers everyone from technology journalists to large companies, start-ups, suppliers, buyers and other companies.
In order to register and gain access, you must convince the consumer technology association of your industry tasks.
We've seen people hawking intrusion marks on the Las Vegas strip, trying to sell tourists on the opportunity to go on the show floor. But the convention has recently increased security, and now photos of these brands are being written in an attempt to stop people from passing them around.
What is Point of CES?
CES is an industry convention. For us in the media, it is a chance to get a practical look at a variety of products that can be released throughout the year. We hear about (and see) things like square dot TV before they appear in the stores. Startups want their gadgets in front of as many as possible as well. Not all products end up being released, however. Electronic companies can showcase new technologies such as rollable TVs that cannot be released immediately.
The big show also gives the opportunity for the technology industry to drive hype and conversation, drive great new technology such as 5G, smarthome technology, self-driving cars, smart cities, autonomous drones and 8K TVs. We will certainly hear a lot more about 5G and see for example a lot of Wi-Fi 6 gadgets at CES 2019, for example.
But it's not just about the media; Many CESs are business. Are you a representative of an electronics store, such as Best Buy? CES will reveal you to all kinds of products that you may want to order. Do you need a lot of selfie sticks or smartphone cases made cheap? You can find suppliers who can manufacture these products cheaply for you. It's often about business, often in the back room.
For example, Kodak's nonsensical Bitcoin mines back in 2018 were not directed at the press. Kodak only used the show floor to look for "investors" who had money and wanted to buy in their mining chart, which was eventually closed by the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
And CES is more than just business and electronics. Like many conventions, it is an excuse for people in the industry to visit Las Vegas, play and party each other – all at the company's dime. That's not the only reason why it was held in Las Vegas. CES is a great show, and most cities would not have hotels and conference rooms for it.
Why should I bother?
Look, let's be honest: If you're not involved in the technology industry you shouldn't worry about CES. CES is an industry event. It appears in the news, because journalists get the latest products, and you may be interested in these products.
CES is a flood of news and products, many of which will never be released or may not be released for a while. Not everyone is interesting. Do you want to see ten different clever dog powers that monitor your pet's fitness activity? Do you want an Alexa-enabled kitchen mixer so you can turn the water on and off by speaking a command? Do you want another "smart assistant", a lot of selfie sticks or an autonomous drone? How about a large number of basically identical smart TVs, some of which run the Firefox OS for some reason? Maybe you are interested in a smart trash, or a large and expensive laundry robot? We've seen all these things at CES.
You can hear about the most interesting things just by paying attention to the technical news at home, anyway. It's a little easier to digest the news on your computer or phone when you're not walking through a packed convention center or competing over Las Vegas for your next private meeting. Do you want to see a particular company's press conference? You can stream them online. And you won't end up with a nasty cold or flu after the convention.
It is also worth noting that many of the largest technology companies are not even at CES. Apple is not there, nor is Microsoft. Google is, but only deleting its existing hardware. Google saves the messages for their own events.
CES is great and CES is terrible
For journalists it is cool to hate CES. That means you are a jaded professional who has been around for a while. You do not buy in hype. You are experienced!
There is a lot of nonsense at CES, but that's not all nonsense. We try to cut through the hype and find the most interesting, actually useful technology. In 2018, we saw the first Google Assistant smart screens, which were the forerunner of the Google homepage – our favorite product from 2018. We heard about improved Wi-Fi security with WPA3, standard USB fast charging and 5G promise of super-fast data everywhere. We saw and played with all sorts of interesting gadgets.
CES is good because there are many amazing gadgets and technology, and it provides many interesting news and products. But that's not all interesting. Samsung is still desperately driving Bixby, big electronics companies are trying to convince us that we all need expensive smart fridges, and home pages sell Alexa-enabled everything.
It is our job to find the most exciting things. If you think that CES is an incredible pairing of interesting products and promising technology, this is because technology media do a good job. You don't have to walk past the endless booths of selfie sticks, drones and iPhone cases.