CES - Superficial, but Necessary

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:


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.


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.