CES 2016: Early guesses

We’re just about three weeks away from the latest International Consumer Electronics Show and the previews are starting to come in. This year the show is all new and hopefully we’ll see an end to some of the problems that have crept in since the show really gained popularity in the early 2000s. The format of the show has changed somewhat, and it’s expected to be a lot less flashy and a lot more business oriented. At least that’s what the organizers are hoping… we’ll see what the exhibitors do.

Size
After growing to a ridiculously unwieldy size in 2015, CES is slimming down. It’s possible that 60,000 people attended the most recent show in one way or another, and it grew to take over three major convention venues and literally hundreds of small meeting rooms. Having been there, I’ll tell you the crush of people was just ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. This year, for the first time that I’m aware of, CES is charging admission. The show was free for those in the consumer electronics industry, and for years, all it took was a forged business card to get a free credential. Admission isn’t much, but it’s hopefully enough to convince 15,000 or more people to stay home. That sounds like a lot but the city of Las Vegas was so overbooked that it probably won’t have much of an economic impact. It should make it easier to get a cab or fit in the monorail, though.

The big stuff
Let’s put cards on the table, the big draw of CES for over a decade has been the large television. I remember my first CES in 2006, marveling at the 84″ HDTV which was priced at roughly a year’s salary for me. Today of course a considerably better television clocks in at about two weeks’ salary, and every year, big TVs get less and less interesting. The problem is, there hasn’t been a lot of other interesting stuff to take the place of the giant TV so manufacturers like Samsung and LG have filled their massive booths with ever-more massive TVs. The TV market is saturated, as you probably noticed by the low-priced, super-sized sets available everywhere. This year could finally see some new stuff that draws our eyes, although it’s still hard to know what it will be.

No-names will dominate
While the news coverage loves to show the giant booths from manufacturers you know, the real business of CES comes when the manufacturers you’ve never heard of make massive distribution deals. Often times it’s Chinese makers who have the impact, and you should expect more and more of that. The influence of the Chinese continues to grow and at this point there’s no stopping them. This year I predict that you’ll start to see innovation from Asia rather than just a copycat effect, as Chinese manufacturers compete to provide complete experiences rather than just rip off well-known US or Japanese brands.

Will Apple ever show up?
The complete absence of one of the world’s technology leaders has always been a problem for CES. In the old days, Apple put on their own trade show, Macworld, at the same time as CES. Macworld is gone, but Apple has never come to CES. They believe the trade show is dead, that they can hold press events whenever they want. They’re probably right, or at least they’re doing pretty well being wrong. Don’t expect to see them at this year’s show.

Overall…
CES is maturing. In the 1980s and 1990s it was a non-stop party, that’s what they tell me. By the 2000s it was “the place” to find out about the new stuff. But of course now we have tons of tech blogs and product announcements from the big guys all the time. This is the show where smaller guys can make big deals and bigger guys can make huge deals. Every year, it’s less about big public announcements and more about deals behind closed doors. This year won’t be any exception.