Dylan’s Desk: CES still matters, even if you hate it

Some guy at the Canon booth at CES 2011

Some guy squinting into the future at the Canon booth at CES 2011. Photo by Dylan Tweney

After a two-week holiday break, my VentureBeat column is back. This week: why CES still matters.

Coincidentally, this morning NPR ran a similar story on Morning Edition. The reporter points out that, while big companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Amazon don’t have booths at CES, they still send many executives and other people to scout out technology and make deals. And, for many companies, CES can actually lead to unparalleled press coverage — especially if you have something that photographs well.

Here’s my piece on VentureBeat.

Tech journalism’s annual festival of self-loathing is in full swing. I refer, of course, to CES, the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that will draw, this year, over 150,000 visitors and nearly as many blog posts complaining about how irrelevant and miserable it is.

I won’t argue about the miserable part. When you take people from all over the world, many of whom were just visiting with family members a week ago, and cram them into a single, shared space with industrial ventilation systems, you’ve got one of the most efficient systems for transferring pathogens ever invented. It’s crowded, the lines for cabs and coffee are long, and it takes forever to get anywhere, whether that’s from Caesar’s Palace to Mandalay Bay or merely from one side of the Las Vegas Convention Center to the other.

And yet, CES is still, for all its failings, one of the most important single events in the technology industry.

It’s not important as a press event, but it’s critical as a meeting place for manufacturers, distributors, and retailers of consumer electronics. I think of it as a temporary bazaar or souk on a grand scale: a huge marketplace where vendors compete to draw the attention of buyers, who flock up and down the aisles looking for a good deal, an angle, or merely an interesting distraction.

CES is also a barometer for where the hardware industry is going. Yes, hardware as we know it is dying. Software is more important than ever, and there hasn’t been a world-changing product unveiling at CES for years. The action has shifted to apps and cloud services, and it’s arguable that those are all more important than the hardware used to deliver them to consumers. But the pendulum may be starting to swing back, and CES 2013 shows the first signs of it.

Read the full story: Why CES still matters, even if you hate it