CES 2021: Preview of… what?

Well, folks here we go.

The CES show officially starts tomorrow, and needless to say it’s virtual. Last year’s show could have been responsible for thousands of COVID cases over the following months. Truth is we’ll never know because believe it or not one year ago no one was talking about that. Last year we were bumping into each other in crowded halls, shaking hands, and taking unwrapped candy from open dishes. I do know a lot of folks who said they got really bad colds after going to the 2020 CES, and who had weird symptoms. You have to wonder.

But that’s not really the point of this article. It’s time we look forward to the most unique CES ever.

Location? What location?

The show has no physical presence whatsoever. Like pretty much everything in the last 12 months, it’s virtual. You get there by going to digital.ces.tech, the home site for all things CES this year. The site looks to be a fairly generic WordPress-type site, although if you dig deeper into the source code it was probably hand-coded a lot more than most. Not like you can really see why… the site’s as generic as can be.

Keynote speakers

The keynotes are free this year and pretty much everyone can attend. That’s the upside of going virtual, of course. You won’t run out of seats. But I am not a real keynote guy, I’ve attended a few but they just don’t excite me. I plan on going to one or two this year since there isn’t much else to do.

The disappointing show floor experience

I had hoped that there would be some sort of genuine show floor experience. Microsoft is handling the back end and I had hoped for some sort of VR or AR experience that could bring some semblance of an experience into this year’s CES. The virtual show floor isn’t open yet, but it’s looking like it’s going to be an “enhanced directory” where every exhibitor is given a page to decorate as they see fit, and that’s it. Folks that’s not CES in the 2020s, that’s MySpace in the 2000’s.

I could be wrong, they could be saving the best for last. But you would think if they really did something truly transformational they would tell you about it.

Who’s to blame here? The show only decided to go all-virtual during the summer. If they had made the decision in April as most of the other tech shows did, there would have been more time. Even so I would think with Microsoft involved they could have done more.

The exhibitors that didn’t

This year’s show is a bit light on exhibitors, and that’s a real shame. I guess some of the big guys didn’t think it was worth their time. Maybe some of the smaller people didn’t think the system was easy enough to use. That’s what I heard a lot about CEDIA, which used a similar “enhanced directory” kind of thing this past fall. Exhibitors complained that it was simply too hard to build an experience with the tools they had.

Will we see meaningful product reveals?

That’s the real question. You can head over to engadget to get their Best of CES winners. But I’ll tell you right now I’ve rarely agreed with their choices in the past. I think the real question is, will someone come up with something that’s just transformative enough and still something they can actually release?

That’s been the problem with CES for decades, and it’s gotten even more clear the last few years. There have been the products that are just slight iterations off last year’s stuff, there have been products that are so out there that you doubt they’ll ever make them, and nothing in between. There’s only so many times you can get excited about something that’s never going to come to pass.

Hopeful, yet cynical

So that’s my feeling for what I’ll see the next few days. I doubt there will be much that’s worth my time, but I hope I’m wrong. And I wonder if this spells the end for this show, which has been limping along since the last recession. There have been bright spots for sure, but every year they get a little dimmer. This year might just put that light out completely.


About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.