NSFW: CES is dead? Not so fast

NSFW is a weekly op-ed column in which I talk about whatever's on my mind. Sometimes it'll have something to do with the technology we cover here on iMore; sometimes it'll be whatever pops into my head. Your questions, comments and observations are welcome.

Despite a flurry of product announcements since the weekend, it's worth noting that the Consumer Electronics Show — CES 2015 — officially opens its doors today and runs through the rest of the week. So far I've read a lot of "CES is dead" style articles over the past few days, some from journalists who aren't going, some from those who are there and are just miserable about it.

I don't put much stock in any of that naysaying, and I don't think you should, either. Having said that, I think some perspective on CES is important.

First, a disclaimer of sorts: Despite having covered tech since the late 90s, I've never been to CES. For a long time it overlapped with Macworld Expo, which was my priority. I don't say this as a particular badge of honor. I consider it good fortune.

Since coming on board with iMore in 2013, I've been lucky that we've had more than enough boots on the ground that I haven't had to go. This year Rene, Serenity and Georgia are there. Ally's on vacation and I'm back at the ranch, keeping the livestock safe from coyotes.

I say "good fortune" and "lucky" because the plain and simple fact of the matter is that I don't much like to travel for work, at least not for trade shows, and especially not to giant trade shows like CES.

I love to spend time with colleagues and friends. I love to meet readers. I love to meet new people and see interesting products.

What I don't love is being cooped up in a plane. I don't like hotels. I almost inevitably get sick when I travel. I miss my family. I miss my cat. I miss my bed. The long days, the sensory overload, the need to shout constantly to be heard, all of it wears me out. Even if I don't get sick, I come home feeling like crap for a week. I'm a delicate freakin' flower, what can I say? Anyway, enough about me.

CES is like a lot of industry events: A lot of companies trying to make a lot of noise about their products, some succeeding, many failing. There's a lot of crap to sift through. You practically need a crystal ball just to figure out which products exhibited at CES will actually come to market.

Those products that actually will have an impact on the marketplace are fewer. It can be notoriously hard to predict. Sometimes it has as much to do with timing and luck as it does with good product design and slick marketing.

As a practical example: We've been hearing endless blather about 4K TVs for a couple of years. To listen to some pundits at CES, 4K TVs were an imminent inevitability. The future of home cinema, et cetera.

That "imminent" was a bit of irrational exuberance. Even Apple's 5K iMac is still a bleeding edge product for many of us. Still, it's a recurrent enough that I think we can safely accept that 4K is the direction we'll move in next, when it comes time to replace those flat-panel HDTVs we replaced our CRT sets with. Especially as prices on 4K sets go from second mortgage loans to something we're more likely to put on a credit card.

3D TV, on the other hand...

Still, for all of its myriad faults, CES is an important cornerstone event in the consumer electronics world. It's the coming-out party for a whole swath of products we'll be talking about more in 2015 and beyond. Products like HDTV, the Compact Disc, Blu-ray, HDTV, the Xbox and more all made their debut at CES. Of course, that happened amidst the backdrop of thousands of other products that either went nowhere or had their time in the spotlight and fizzled.

One of the biggest challenges any tech journalist has to cover CES is to differentiate sizzle from steak. It's a tougher job than many might think. You have to cut through the marketing hype, see the products for what they are, and try to figure out how the public is likely to react to them once they're out in the world. Some do a better job than others.

At their worst, the tech pubs covering CES will endlessly regurgitate press release after press release, contributing to the "drinking from a firehose" effect that makes CES so overwhelming to begin with.

At their best, the tech pubs covering CES will be able to provide some context for the announcements that will enable their readers to understand the trends in consumer technology and how those trends are likely to affect consumer buying decisions and their lives.

On balance, I have great faith that the Mobile Nations team will be able to do exactly that.

Peter Cohen
8 Comments
  • So about what percentage of products at CES are actually ready to go on sale vs. those still in development? I was under the mistaken impression they were all ready to go on the market.
  • The *vast* majority of products at CES are for demo only or prototypes. Many vendors show off products in the hopes that a major buyer will come along, see it and order 100,000 units. It's why so few of the products the Tech Media pimps actually ever show up in stores.
  • Ok - name a product that is as groundbreaking as HDTV this year that is being featured at CES. *Crickets*
  • A completely nonsensical rant. Sent from the iMore App
  • I don't know, I guess I'm the opposite. I love traveling, especially overseas, and I look at it as a fun little adventure. I'd gladly go to Barcelona for the MWC if I could afford to (I've always wanted to go there). Of course I'd miss my cat and certain people back home, so I wouldn't want to be gone too long. But I'd thoroughly enjoy going on a trip like that and I wouldn't mind getting paid to do it, either. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.
  • Ok, I'll agree with that - certainly I was in no position to buy anything at Art Basil Miami when I attended it (with a total access press package no less, so I was able to attend the pre-showing when the high-rollers were allowed in first). That combined with the spectacles of the 'hotel galleries' that popped up for the indie market and the large availability of accommodations and food (of all kinds and price levels) made for a nice trip. The CES sounds like a royal pain in the ass tho for what exactly? I saw some of the best contemporary art of all time - not a pile of 'we slapped these off the shelf components together' gee-gaws.
  • Yeah, tbh I don't think I'd bother going to CES, but I'd go to MWC in a heartbeat.
  • CES is cool, but MWC is where it's really at. Sent from the iMore App