CES - Superficial, but Necessary

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CES is over, and thank goodness. It's a lot of work, but it's an increasingly important show for Apple's ecosystem even though Apple isn't even there. Having had the weekend to think about this year's event, I thought I'd offer my view from 10,000 feet.

Firstly, this was a good show for us at TMO. We met with a lot of great companies, saw some fun, good, and interesting products, and walked a lot of miles. Plus, I got to see the new Star Trek Mimobots USB thumb drives from Mimoco. It's even possible I got my very own Spock Mimobot(!!).

Live Long and Prosper, USB Data!

One Show to Rule Them All

I think I'll start with Macworld/iWorld. Is that show still relevant, or has CES become the one show to rule them all, at least as far as the Apple community is concerned?

I definitely have a bias for Macworld/iWorld, but that bias stems from the reality that these two events no longer serve the same purpose. Macworld/iWorld is about the community, while CES is about the industry.

Macworld/iWorld is about consumers and vendors coming together to have a conversation about products related to OS X and iOS. Many of those same consumers attend conferences and sessions where they learn more about their Apple devices. New techniques, new methods, new ways of thinking, new ways of doing things.

It's also about the Apple-centric press—sites like The Mac Observer—meeting with vendors and developing new relationships and maintaining existing ones. Many writers and podcasters get to meet with fans, readers, listeners, and to further develop those kinds of relationships.

I've said it before, but this is why I think Apple was wrong to pull out of what was then called Macworld Expo. Apple may not need a trade show to reach out to customers, but the ecosystem itself does, and I think Apple should be there supporting that. I've ranted about this topic before, however, so let's move on.

In comparison, there's some face time happening at CES, but the scope of the show means that every single aspect of being there is a lot more superficial than being at Macworld/iWorld. There's just too much to do, and it's all so spread out, doing it takes much, much, much more time.

In this case, more isn't necessarily better for those of us with an Apple-centric standpoint. Much of CES is about other things. Refrigerators, washing machines, car stereos and other automobile stuff, tons of embedded electronics, and all manner of things that aren't of interest to most of our readers.

Even though we aren't there to cover it, we still have to walk through a lot of this other stuff to get where we want to go, meaning that it still eats into our time, adding to that superficial aspect of the show.

Plus, it's Vegas, the monument to what never was. Everything about Vegas is towards the superficial side. In fact, I have a photograph that perfectly exemplifies this notion:

Ummm...

DTS's Booth Showing Play-Fi, an Existential Exercise
Photograph by Sphynge Photography for TMO

It's also important to remember that consumers are not allowed in CES. There is no conversation taking place between customers and companies, something that's a big part of Macworld/iWorld.

For companies looking to make deals with distributors—a massive component of CES—that's not important. For a new company looking to foster some brand or product evangelists, those conversations are vital.

There's also the value of that small company being able to see what happens when real people use or see their products. Again, that's not happening at CES.

To that end, why any app maker would be at CES solely to show off a new app is utterly beyond me. I saw a few, too. To me, if you aren't looking to get a distribution deal, CES is a wasted expense. Yes, you can still meet with the press at CES, but most of the press that will pay you any attention will also be at Macworld/iWorld.

Apple's Shadow

In the last several years, it has been acknowledged far and wide that Apple pretty much ruled CES, setting the tone and the bar for seemingly every company in attendance. Oh, sure, that's not the case for those washing machine companies—though, really, how long will it be before we can control and monitor our washing machines from our iPhones?—but it's been the case for most of the rest of the show.

I don't think I felt Apple's shadow to the same extent this year. It's not that Samsung has replaced Apple as the company to beat—Apple does still set that bar, even if Fandroids want to believe otherwise—it's just that I felt there were fewer companies worried about out-Apple-ing Apple before Apple pulled an Apple on them.

For more of my experience at the Samsung booth, check out a piece I wrote last week called, "What Is Everybody Doing in the Samsung Booth at CES?"

Oh, and a friendly note to Coby: Don't bother showing Android tablets if they're going to stutter when you do anything on them. You're welcome.

Back to the topic at hand, there was definitely fewer companies worried about Apple or proudly showing off products intended to beat Apple to the punch.

There are no doubt many reasons for this. Android has caught up to Apple in the smartphone market; no one has any idea...yet...what Apple is going to do in the TV space and thus it's still business as usual; no one cares about the PC industry these days; few have any delusions that the iPad can be dethroned as top tablet.

The point, however, is that Apple's shadow was less noticeable this year than in prior events. I suspect it will be different next year when the TV market gets all hot and bothered about Apple, but that remains to be seen.

Booth Babes

Trade show booth talent—colloquially and derogatorily referred to as Booth Babes —was more subdued this year.

Talent

D-Link Booth Talent at CES 2013
Photograph by Sphynge Photography for TMO

Except for HyperShop, maker of the HyperDrive battery for iPhone. You probably already heard about this, but the company had live models posing with body paint, wearing panties and nothing else. I'm no prude, but I tell you I thought this was a mistake.

On the one hand, lots of folks were talking about it, and that's supposed to be good. On the other, the result of having naked chicks standing there at your booth is that your booth gets surrounded by a bunch of loser creeps filming, photographing, and drooling. It's self-selection at its basest level, and the double entendre is intended.

If you want to see pics of these naked chicks, you can check out Cult of Mac's coverage (or Google "naked women at CES"). I personally might have admired the artistry of the body paint or the models' ability to stand there perfectly still, but the creepiness level was so high because of the men watching, I didn't want to be anywhere near the booth lest I be associated with them.

Judging by the reality that the crowd surrounding the booth was dominated by loser creeps suggested I wasn't the only one with this opinion. That these men were standing just as still as the models only exacerbated the problem. It could almost have been a weird, surrealist's performance art piece, but as it was it was just creepy.

Other than that, this year's show seemed a little less flashy than the past couple of years.

The Big Picture

Many have decried the death of CES, saying it's unnecessary in an age of social media. That's a naive opinion borne of people too lost within the echo chamber to realize that they're even in an echo chamber.

Believe it or not, most people don't hang out on tech sites, get their news from Twitter, or even Facebook. Even in this era of globalism, business is still done face to face. Buyers need to see products, vendors need to meet one another to form new partnerships, and even the press pays more attention to the companies with whom the journalists have relationships—it's human nature.

Social media is an important tool for PR and customer outreach, but it doesn't replace that human interaction and CES will remain relevant for many years to come. I enjoy Macworld/iWorld far more, but that doesn't keep CES from being relevant.

In short, CES is a superficial event held in a city known for being one giant façade, but it's an important event for all of the markets in which Apple competes.

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20 Comments Leave Your Own

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

So at least we know what the people standing around in Samsung’s booth weren’t doing. They weren’t looking at plus-sized women stripped down and painted up. Note to self: the waifish models take a lot less body paint.

Bryan Chaffin

That’s true, Brad. Samsung’s booth was free of talent.

::giggle::

geoduck

People will remember the (nearly) naked women at this CES but how many remember what company hosted them or what they sell? Years ago at a MacWorld Expo the CEO of a software company said that he’d eat a bug if one were found in their program. Lots of people remember that but few remember what company or what program (or if he ever fulfilled his promise). An old adage of the advertising industry (that I just codified) says that you need a gimmick to get your customers attention but the gimmick must never overshadow your product.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

I for one will look back and fondly remember this company’s product as “Band Camp”.

Shawn King

“the CEO of a software company said that he’d eat a bug if one were found in their program. Lots of people remember that but few remember what company or what program (or if he ever fulfilled his promise).”

Jason Whong, marketing director for Ambrosia Software. And yes, he ate several varying bugs.

Shawn King

Wow…where to start…..

First off, to be clear - I HATE CES. I LOVE Macworld Expo. But what I hate more is these kind of Mac Media’s rose colored glasses look at the fustercluck that Macworld/iWorld has become. The Mac Media yearly sticks its fingers in its ears and its head in the sand and refuses to look at Macworld/iWorld objectively and point out exactly where the Emperor has no clothes or at least, that he’s wearing a ratty old jockstrap.

“Macworld/iWorld is about consumers and vendors coming together to have a conversation about products related to OS X and iOS.”

That conversation happens at CES, too. For some reason you are (like most of the Mac Media) loath to mention the CES iLounge Pavilion. (I bet you were standing in it when you got your free “Star Trek Mimobots USB hard drives” - BTW, they’re not hard drives, they’re flash drives). The iLounge Pavilion, which, BTW is *significantly* bigger than Macworld/iWorld even if the Mac Press hates to mention/admit it, facilitates that conversation much like your beloved Macworld/iWorld does.

“Many of those same consumers attend conferences and sessions where they learn more about their Apple devices. New techniques, new methods, new ways of thinking, new ways of doing things.”

There are even more conferences and sessions at CES.

“It’s also about the Apple-centric press—sites like The Mac Observer—meeting with vendors and developing new relationships and maintaining existing ones.”

There were just as many, if not more, Apple-centric press at CES than will be at Macworld/iWorld. They have a greater reach and are more international, too.

“Apple may not need a trade show to reach out to customers, but the ecosystem itself does, and I think Apple should be there supporting that.”

I agree wholeheartedly.

“Even though we aren’t there to cover it, we still have to walk through a lot of this other stuff to get where we want to go”

Then you’re doing it wrong. The iLounge Pavilion at CES is front and center (maybe a little off to the left…). You walk in and there are over 500 vendors right there for you.

“It’s also important to remember that consumers are not allowed in CES.”

That’s a ridiculous statement that continues to get repeated by an unthinking press. First of all, it’s really not that hard to get a badge to get into CES, just like it’s not hard to get one for Macworld/iWorld. Secondly, every person at CES is most certainly a “consumer”. Every person in the building consumes products. Every person in the building buys stuff. Every person in the building has a computer, a phone, a refrigerator. Every single person in the building, all 150,000+ of them (ten times bigger than Macworld/iWorld) is a potential customer.

“There is no conversation taking place between customers and companies, something that’s a big part of Macworld/iWorld.”

Bull - they happen all the time. From someone going to the Griffin Technology booth to ask how much that widget costs to the corporate honcho from Best Buy going to the Incipio booth and asking how much for 35,000 iPhone 5 cases. Conversations between customers and companies happen constantly at CES.

“For a new company looking to foster some brand or product evangelists, those conversations are vital.”

Agreed. And, in that case, that new company has a pool of 150+K to potentially draw from vs 15+K.

“There’s also the value of that small company being able to see what happens when real people use or see their products. Again, that’s not happening at CES.”

As the guys at Adonit about that. Small company that started off a a Kickstarter project. Now a small shop. Probably don’t have much money to sling around. And yet, they still showed their product at CES. And they’ll show it at Macworld/iWorld, too.

“but most of the press that will pay you any attention will also be at Macworld/iWorld.”

Really? Lots of press gave lots of companies lots of attention at CES.

“Many have decried the death of CES”

Macworld/iWorld will be dead long before CES.

Dave Hamilton

Shawn — your comments are interesting. CES is, first and foremost, a huge, mondo tradeshow. Yes, some of the booths are built to cater to consumers (especially in the iLounge pavilion), but even there I saw many booths with unreleased products that were there simply to show distributors what they could have in the coming months. Yep, that’s right: there are plenty of vendors there who were more interested in talking to distributors than press. It’s just how those folks use CES, and that’s smart (because the distributors’ reps are there to do just that!).

And while CES has some sessions, they’re more echo-chamber-let’s-ra-ra-about-the-industry sessions. There’s no education happening, and certainly nothing tailored at the consumer (in all of us).

And that’s where Macworld/iWorld shines: it truly *is* about the community, and it has that vibe to it. Where CES’s main focus is on the tradeshow floor, I don’t see Macworld/iWorld that way. It’s more about the people who are attending, what they’re learning, and (re)acquainting themselves with old and new friends, all with a core interest and discussion about the Mac and other Apple products. MW/iW is a bit more like going to camp, and that’s a good thing. Now, is that *enough* to keep it going? Time will continue to tell that answer. Obviously the exhibitors pay a large chunk of what it takes to run that show. Could it happen without exhibitors? Certainly not in the fashion that we’re used to, but *something* could happen. That said, I’m not sure it ever *would* happen without exhibitors. There are some companies who want to be a part of the community, part of that conversation, and they show up there, year after year. And because that community and conversation happens every year, that draws new exhibitors. And so on and so forth.

But no, CES and Macworld/iWorld don’t serve the same purposes anymore. And that, by definition, means that Macworld/iWorld is smaller. I *like* it that way, though I’m sure there are those at IDG who would prefer a larger attendance (and bottom line) each year.

Shawn King

“Shawn — your comments are interesting.”

One does one’s best. smile

“I saw many booths with unreleased products that were there simply to show distributors what they could have in the coming months.”

Agreed. And those distributors ARE consumers/customers after a fashion.

“And that’s where Macworld/iWorld shines: it truly *is* about the community, and it has that vibe to it.”

I’ll agree with you on that but - what community? Macworld/iWorld is increasingly *irrelevant* to the Mac Community. Look at the size of the market - Apple has, let’s be conservative, 75 million customers. Macworld/iWorld has, if you’re being generous, 20,000 attendees (that includes press, attendees, speakers and exhibitors).

Let’s narrow it down to just the region - after all, Macworld/iWorld has become a regional show. In the general Bay area, there are what…..5 million people? Let’s say that only 10% of them are Mac users. That’s still half a million people. Why can’t IDG attract more than 2-3% of those people to a show *dedicated* to them?

Is it because the community doesn’t care? Is it because the community doesn’t like what IDG is doing? Is it because the community doesn’t know about the show? All questions I honestly don’t have the answer to.

The bottom line question is - With a pool of at least half a million people to draw from, why can’t IDG get better attendance at the show?

“Where CES’s main focus is on the tradeshow floor, I don’t see Macworld/iWorld that way.”

Perhaps but you must admit that, in the past, Macworld Expo WAS all about the show floor. Attendance figures bear that out. Only 10% of attendees went to the conferences.

“And because that community and conversation happens every year, that draws new exhibitors. And so on and so forth.”

But at the show gets smaller each year, fewer exhibitors show up each year.

“I’m sure there are those at IDG who would prefer a larger attendance (and bottom line) each year.”

I’ve always been curious (and have asked without really expecting an answer), what is the floor for IDG regarding Expo attendance? At what point *will* they close the doors? 15,000 attendees? 10,000? 5,000?

Dave Hamilton

@ShawnKing said: “Perhaps but you must admit that, in the past, Macworld Expo WAS all about the show floor. Attendance figures bear that out. Only 10% of attendees went to the conferences.”

Oh, totally. And I think that’s the biggest problem IDG has: the stigma of what the show *used* to be. Shows now would be considered HUGE successes were they *not* compared to Macworld Expo’s of old. A few years ago I had a mental shift in my expectations for Macworld, and that’s IDG’s challenge: to change everyone’s expectations. If you go expecting a mondo show floor, you won’t get it. But if you open your eyes and look beyond that, there’s an awesome event to attend. I believe the repricing of the iFan pass (perhaps not the best name) is a big step. FOr $75 (pre-pay) you can see (basically) everything: sessions, show floor, etc. Add $40 for a Little Feat concert (and weasel yourself a Cirque du Mac ticket) and you’ve got a helluva lot of fun with a helluva lot of great people happening in a long weekend. WHo *wouldn’t* want to go to that?

Shawn King

“FOr $75 (pre-pay) you can see (basically) everything: sessions, show floor, etc.”

But, as I’ve shown, 90% of the attendees *don’t* want to “see everything”. They want, and have always wanted, to see the show floor.

“Add $40 for a Little Feat concert and you’ve got a helluva lot of fun”

LOL I couldn’t disagree more. Sorry but the choice of an old (hell - *ancient*) white guy band for the “headline act” does nothing for me.

And I think that’s part of the problem IDG has. As you say, you had a “mental shift in my expectations”. And yet, IDG still seems to be catering to the “old white MUG user” crowd and at the same time, pissing off segments of the population. That “Tribal Drum Circle” last years was pretty offensive to Native American showgoers, for example.

Granted, you can’t please everyone but it’s easy to believe that a younger, hipper IDG would choice a band from THIS century to headline their party. For that matter, Paul Kent’s OWN band - the Silicon Valley Houserockers (who I used for my Expo parties) - would be a funner, cooler choice, IMO.

I think this is a symptom of the rot inside IDG.

Dave Hamilton

Actually, that drum circle was awesome. Totally captured the community vibe and the leader, Arthur Hull, is respected worldwide for his drum circles (which I’m sure is why IDG brought him in). I did hear some rumblings from folks who were offended by it being called “Tribal” and that was unfortunate for them. If I recall correctly those offended by the “tribal” label didn’t even attend it, also unfortunate. It truly was an awesome celebration (amongst an admittedly self-selected group).

Shawn King

“Actually, that drum circle was awesome.”

Your opinion. Yes, as a white guy, you enjoyed it. Yes, as a drummer yourself, you enjoyed it. You have your own biases. But Native Americans found it offensive. I found it an idiotic idea that was completely out of sync with the show.

“If I recall correctly those offended by the “tribal” label didn’t even attend it, also unfortunate.”

Yes - people tend to not appear at events they find offensive. Funny that.

Bryan Chaffin

Ah, Shawn King, the champion of political correctness…

Wait, something isn’t quite right there. smile

I also thought the drum circle was awesome. It seemed that the hundreds of people participating in it thought it was awesome, too. As you noted, Shawn, it is indeed funny that many of the people who have since criticized it weren’t there. I think we see the irony from different viewpoints, however.

In the meanwhile, like Dave, I think Macworld/iWorld is a great time and stand behind the portion of this column dedicated to the topic (note that I corrected “hard drive” to “thumb drive,” as I had intended to write).

You’ve been predicting the end of the show for years, Shawn. Like those in the ADKC, you’ll eventually be right if you just stick to your guns long enough. Until then, I will continue to enjoy it for what it is. I’ve enjoyed the show’s transformation post-Apple participation, and last year’s event was the most enjoyable yet, despite its smaller size.

Shawn King

“I also thought the drum circle was awesome.”

Again - middle aged white guy. Your cultural biases are showing. smile

“You’ve been predicting the end of the show for years, Shawn.”

I’ve been doing no such thing. You ignored the part where I said, “I LOVE Macworld Expo”.

So - let me be clear. I WANT Macworld Expo to succeed. I WANT it to be a HUGE success. I WANT it to kick iLounge’s ass and be bigger than their stupid “pavilion” at CES.

Not sure if I can be any more clear than that.

“Like those in the ADKC…”

Sorry…no idea what that is.

“I will continue to enjoy it for what it is.”

But isn’t that the question? Post-Apple, what is the show? WHo does it serve? What’s its purpose?

How about we leave the snide comments directed at me out of it and have a serious discussion. Let’s give that a shot.

Or, you can continue to snipe at me. Whatever.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Point of order here, Shawn. I just checked Robert’s Rules of Order and it says that pulling the race card on a drum circle is retarded. You deserve proportional sniping for that.

Shawn King

How is pointing out that Native American showgoers found the drum circle offensive “pulling the race card”? I honestly have no idea what you are talking about.

It was billed by IDG as “A Tribal Gathering”. People who actually belong to REAL tribes found it offensive. Where’s the “race card”?

And “retarded”? Really? OK. You’re an asshole. See? I can pointless call names and make disparaging remarks just like you guys can. Does it get us any further in the discussion? No.

But you’d rather do that than have an adult conversation about the points brought up in the story. I guess I was hoping for too much when I hoped that this might become a dialog on what Expo is and how it can be made better.

So I’m done. Have fun calling me more names, picking nits and sniping though. You’re better at that than you are at being an adult.

Bryan Chaffin

A few things, Shawn:

1.) Brad’s comment was very funny and spot on, even if his use of “retarded” was lacking in political correctness. What you’ve done vis á vis Native Americans and the drum circle is the very definition of playing the race card.

I’ll go further, however, and state I personally don’t care that some Native Americans were offended by the drum circle or its description as a “tribal gathering.” There is always someone who will be offended by just about anything, and IMO, the idea of white people not being able to enjoy a tribal gathering or a drum circle is utter nonsense devoid of a rational basis.

Related: Rembert Browne wrote a fantastic piece about the false sense of ownership some people feel they have over this or that aspect of various subcultures.

Your mileage may vary, but in that I’ve heard you express many politically incorrect thoughts, I suspect you beat this particular drum only because it reinforces your preferred narrative about Macworld/iWorld. I imagine you feel otherwise, of course, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why the drum circle is a point of contention for you. It was awesome. It was a fantastic expression of community that would never have been possible during the days of Apple’s participation in Macworld (as I said last year).

2.) I understand you want Macworld to be successful. I also understand that you don’t think it can be successful with the direction that IDG has taken.  But, it’s erroneous for you to say I’m not objective about the subject. I have objectively reached different conclusions than you—accusations to the contrary make it difficult for me to take your arguments seriously.

I’ve stated in no uncertain terms what I like about the show, who it serves, why it has value, and why it’s an important event for the community. I’m OK with you not accepting those reasons or believing that those questions still need to be answered.

3.) You have been predicting Macworld’s failure for some time. That you profess your love for the show is not mutually exclusive to the reality that you have also expressed your belief that the show will die. You did so in the comments above.

Bosco (Brad Hutchings)

Crap, Bryan just hit my softball out of the park.

“Rembert Browne wrote a fantastic piece about the false sense of ownership some people feel they have over this or that aspect of various subcultures”

Oh, and he knows right where I was gonna hit it wink. Cough. “Copying”. Cough.

Bryan Chaffin

Ha! Fair enough, Brad. smile

Dave Hamilton

To clarify for those of you following along (or finding this later), I believe Shawn (and the rest of us) are referring to one specific Native American, Susan Gehr, who publicly (in TMO’s comments) took issue with the word, “tribal,” being used to describe the drum circle. She specifically points out that the concept of the drum circle was A-OK to her. Again, this was one person, and I don’t *think* she attended Macworld/iWorld 2012 last year, though I could be wrong on this point. Certainly it wasn’t *all* Native Americans and she admits that she’s hyper-sensitive to this word (and why). Certainly not a baseline case, though we all bring our experiences with us wherever we go, and that’s what makes us all interesting and different.

There were over 500 people there at the drum circle, and it was truly magic. If you missed it, well, you can only hope that IDG will do it again this year. Time will tell.

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