It’s a wierd week. Strange and surprisingly acquainted. You keep on the similar lodge in a virtually an identical room to the one you stayed in for the final 10 years or so. You see associates and colleagues you’ve not seen shortly. Everyone is three years older and a bit worse for put on. A world pandemic will do this to an individual.
Last yr was imagined to be your triumphant return to the present, after two years away. But you bought chilly ft when the omicron numbers began spiking across the holidays. The subsequent vacation journey, coupled with exhibitors flying in from everywhere in the world, was adequate trigger for concern. And you had been removed from alone. Attendance numbers — which had hit 170,000 in 2020 — had been all the way down to ~40,000, representing a 75% drop in attendance.
The yr between — 2021 — there was no in-person CES in any respect. The CTA, which places on the occasion, finally made the suitable choice and went all-virtual for the primary time in its historical past. That was its personal sort of mess. The infrastructure easy wasn’t in place for an occasion this dimension and scope. One additionally suspects that the CTA would fairly not let folks get too used to protecting exhibits like this nearly, for worry that they’d deem it pointless to return.
But the world has slowly gotten again to regular, and so, too, has CES. It’s a bit like returning to your old-fashioned a number of years after graduating. There are some acquainted faces and a few new ones. For higher or worse, life went on with out you. Hell, the college even constructed an enormous, new wing. In this case, it’s the shiny West Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. With the South Hall roughly shuttered for the occasion, the rising military of mobility companies have since migrated right here. At some level after we weren’t wanting, CES turned a automotive present.
That’s due, partially, to timing — each one among CES’s largest strengths and weaknesses. Strength, within the sense that it’s the primary present of the yr. Weakness as a result of who actually needs to be considering (stressing) in regards to the massive present over vacation dinners or sitting on a aircraft January 2?
In the weeks main as much as the occasion, the CTA introduced that it was anticipating 100,000 folks on the occasion. That’s nowhere close to pre-pandemic ranges, but it surely definitely represents a good bounceback for a reside occasion. After the mud cleared, it revised that quantity upward to 115,000. Speaking purely anecdotally, it didn’t really feel that prime, however emotions are definitely no alternative for official attendance numbers.
I’ll say, there have been spots (massive chunks of Central Hall, for instance) that felt as crowded as any yr prior. Certainly I felt it making an attempt to get lunch within the cafeteria on day one. Other spots, like North Hall, appeared largely empty the handful of instances I went again. I’m unsure that bodes notably nicely for the focus of robotics firms there. I in all probability jumped the gun with my “Consumer Robotics Show” headline, even when it was completed with tongue semi-planted in cheek.
Most, if not all, of the media retailers I spoke to despatched fewer folks than 2020 for quite a lot of causes. First, we’ve all tailored to distant protection. Second, loads of persons are nonetheless (rightfully) anxious a few pandemic. Turns out it hasn’t truly gone away, regardless of our greatest efforts to faux in any other case. Third, journalism is getting crushed but once more by the financial downturn. Budgets are tightening and many retailers merely have fewer reporters.
The full title is The International CES, for apparent causes. One may make a reasonably credible case that CES 2020 was one of many first main COVID-19 superspreader occasions. There are, nevertheless, nonetheless journey restrictions in place. Most notable is China. A day after the present formally ended, The Wall Street Journal ran the headline, “China Reopens to the World as International Travel Restrictions End.” China is clearly an enormous participant on the scene, and restrictions are invariably going to harm your backside line. Plenty of locations had been nicely represented on the present, together with Korea and France.
I mentioned this a bit within the preview submit, but it surely’s price mentioning once more. The CTA may be very insistent we name it “CES,” and never the “Consumer Electronics Show.” Pedantic? Sure. Telling? Absolutely. The group needs CES to be extra issues to extra folks. That contains automobiles, robots and loads of software program/apps. There are methods wherein the occasion remains to be very a lot tied to custom, however its organizers have additionally completed a superb job adapting its scope.
Size, too. CES is sprawling. It takes over town — or least the realm surrounding the Strip — and typically appears like a brief metropolis unto itself. Like any city space, it has its pockets of focus and its share of visitors jams. If you recognize what’s good for you, you received’t try and catch a automotive outdoors of the Venetian Expo (RIP, The Sands) round 6 PM. You also needs to know that you simply’ll want a 20- to 30-minute buffer, no matter your mode of transportation, as much as and together with Tesla Small World tunnel.
For the primary time in 11 (!) years, the Adult Entertainment Expo coincided with CES and took the AVN Show (the porn Oscars, if you’ll) together with it. A enjoyable little bit of trivia: The entire factor is definitely an outgrowth of a CES grownup software program part that existed within the ’80s and ’90s. I remorse not having the time to take a look at the occasion and all its idiosyncratic tech this yr. We did, nevertheless, get dinner at a fantastic vegan restaurant within the new Resorts World tower our last evening, and managed to come across a few of that present’s overflow. They’re a enjoyable bunch.
One of essentially the most constructive modifications to the present lately is its shift in focus to startup tradition. There’s little query that the 2 flooring of Eureka Park are far and away essentially the most vibrant part. The cubicles and aisles are far smaller and extra tightly packed collectively. Not every part you’ll see in there’s a winner, however the folks displaying it to you challenge a sort of real pleasure you not often see with the larger firms. I might have cherished to have spent extra time there, but it surely simply didn’t work out that means for me this yr.
The development over the past a number of years is massive firms opting to announce new stuff on their very own phases and time. The transfer to digital presses over the past a number of years has solely accelerated this. But as the massive firms transfer away from the present, bright-eyed startups are very happy to fill that void.
As I discussed in a earlier submit, this was the yr of placing stuff on my face. I attempted out the Magic Leap 2, Meta Quest Pro, Vive XR Elite, PSVR2 and Dyson Bane masks. VR/AR/XR as soon as once more reigned supreme. How that manifests itself within the broader shopper world, alternatively, is one other query completely. It is, nevertheless, fairly telling that everybody however Sony and its pure gaming headset wish to enterprise. It’s easy the place the cash is true now, a minimum of till the costs considerably come down for high quality headsets.
Another theme I discovered in speaking to people in that world is a genuinely keen feeling round Apple’s headset play. The consensus with these firms seems to be that the rising tide will raise all ships right here, as the corporate reinvigorates the scene. Truth of the matter is that it’s been the “next thing” for therefore lengthy there’s a real fatique right here.
Ditto for crypto/web3, albeit for completely totally different causes. There’s been a gradual drumbeat of unhealthy information for the class and most of the people who would have in any other case been shouting their message from the rooftops are at the moment licking their wounds. I’ve not been shy with reference to my emotions across the expertise, and it was frankly a aid to not be bombarded by these pitches this yr.
No doubt my inbox shall be stuffed with them this time subsequent yr.
TechCrunch workers has spent the final a number of days constructing their Hot or Not lists, so I’ll embrace these right here:
Some of the shine has worn off round good residence tech. It’s arduous to not see that mirrored in Amazon Echo’s struggles. At the very least, it’s clear that issues didn’t go precisely as deliberate for a lot of firms. It is, nevertheless, fairly heartening to see a sort of unified entrance within the type of the Matter Alliance.
Health tech, in the meantime, stays a going concern, be it residence health or wearables. We’ve seen a widespread push to get a few of these merchandise taken extra significantly as medical units, and that was very a lot on show right here. Meanwhile, it was a real bummer to see what occurred to Mojo Vision, after protecting them for therefore many CESes.
Economics loomed giant, in fact. Overall, the discharge cadence of recent merchandise appears to have slowed for the trade. The finish of 2022 didn’t see the identical kind of rush of recent merchandise we often get earlier than the vacation. The causes are clear. For one factor, cash is tight and inflation is excessive, so persons are spending much less on non-necessities. For one other, provide chain constraints are having a tangible impact on the trade’s means to ship.
Ahead of the present, I requested Sony what they deliberate to indicate off. For the primary time I can recall, I acquired an official assertion from a rep telling me what the corporate isn’t displaying. “Sony will not be sharing any TV details during CES 2023,” a spokesperson instructed me. “However, please stay tuned for an upcoming announcement coming soon.” That’s a brand new one. The firm did have film trailers, although.
I received’t say this felt like a transitional yr — solely as a result of that may be stated about just about each CES from the previous decade. I additionally acknowledge that it’s word completely truthful to evaluate it by its first full-fledge present in three years. It was unusual, and there was zero likelihood it was going to be something however. For the CTA’s sake, attendance exceeding what appeared like optimistic expectations is a genuinely good signal. As for us, I’m sure we’re not alone in rethinking how we deal with CES going ahead.