To borrow a line from Charles Dickens, “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” I am of course speaking about the 2012 Consumer Electronics show (CES), which is really a tale of two shows this year. On the bright side, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) is on track to set a number of attendance and exhibitor records this year, but on the dark side, a number of experts are predicting the show’s death by 2015.
One reason people are forecasting the death of CES within the next three years goes back to issues with this year’s keynote speakers. In the weeks leading up to the show, Microsoft announced that this would be their last appearance at CES – ending both the tradition of their CEO presenting the opening keynote and of exhibiting on the show floor. Soon after, the Verizon Wireless CEO cancelled his keynote appearance, citing a schedule change. His spot on the Innovation Power Panel was filled by John Stratton, enterprise solutions president for Verizon. Many observers feel that these withdrawals are a sure sign of a much larger issue – questioning the continued relevance of this conference in light of the rapidly changing consumer and enterprise technology landscape, and the immediacy of information we experience today.
Large firms today tend to want control over their own product and software releases and announcement events (in the mold of Apple – who has never exhibited at CES and recently pulled out of MacWorld). Further, thanks to the Internet and the maturity of electronic communications, consumers often already have insight into what will be announced at CES before the show. With some believing this year’s show was just the start of its demise – relegating CES to be a show where no truly interesting or disruptive announcements are made – it is no surprise that the lifespan of CES was one of the key themes of the show.
Other top-of-mind topics throughout CES included:
The emergence of Ultrabooks/the end of company provided PCs - The Ultrabook is a light, thin, notebook PC that uses a solid state drive. While most believe that this trend is overhyped (as happened with netbooks), others (including myself) believe that within the next couple of years Ultrabooks will drive the current BYOD trends that are pervasive in smartphones further down into the pipeline and may represent the end of company provided PCs.
The last days of traditional TV - Just about every video manufacturer in attendance realized that the days of sitting down with the family and watching broadcast TV are over. Multiple studies provide evidence to support this. Accenture released a new report on global TV viewing that states the number of people who watch broadcast or cable television in a typical week dropped to 48% in 2011 from 71% in 2009; and CEA itself predicted that TV sales would only grow by 1% in 2012 after a 2011 growth of 2%. All of this points to changed preferences of the global consumer – changes which are also reflected in global enterprises. Consumers today expect greater control of their information and media, relying more on products and systems that deliver content from the cloud rather than the traditional gatekeeper controlled methods. PCs, tablets and smart devices are taking the place of broadcast and cable TV for media and information delivery in homes; and the big, beautiful displays that we put in our living rooms are expected to do a whole lot more than show us what any programmer is sending over the airwaves. These units are expected to have our content automatically ready for us when we want to watch it.
Debatable interest in new devices - While 3D displays have decent sales numbers, most people perceive the product class as a failure because it didn’t create a massive drive for consumers to upgrade. As a result, this was a constant theme at CES – are any of the presented improvements in technology compelling enough to drive the consumer to begin investing in upgraded hardware when they don’t really need to? Most experts believe the items presented still don’t meet that standard, especially in a down economy. A new 3D TV with Facebook built in is nice, but people won’t wait in line to get it (as they apparently would for a smartphone or tablet). Some believe all of these efforts to wow consumers with new features are just a big failed attempt to catch up to the Apple way of doing business.
Whether CES continues for another three or ten years, it’s indisputably a fun, informative and engaging show rife with new products, gadgets and ideas for the future of today’s technology – both for the consumer and the enterprise.