CES: No Replacement for Macworld Expo

There's been a lot of talk recently about the value of a Macworld Expo versus the value of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) happening around the same time each year.

For those of you unfamiliar, CES is a ginormous "industry trade show" (the general public is usually not allowed in) held in Las Vegas each year at the beginning of January.

How big is it? IDG claims Macworld Expo has over 400 exhibitors. CES claims 2700. Macworld Expo claims approximately 40,000 attendees -- CES claims 110,000. The Moscone Center, where Expo is held, has over 700,000 square feet (not all of it used during any given Expo) while CES fills more than 1.7 million square feet of exhibit space.

By any objective measure, CES is a much bigger show.

But is it a more effective one? That's up for debate.

It hasn't been much of a concern in the past. After all, the two shows generally serve different audiences. Keep in mind, most shows support an "ecosystem" of people -- attendees, speakers, media, vendors -- all of whom have different wants, needs and expectations, some of which can be mutually exclusive.

But, with Apple pulling out of Macworld Expo (and let's make it clear right now: Apple is not going to exhibit or keynote at CES any time in the near future), CES talking about a "Mac section" on their show floor and iLounge announcing that they are "poaching" Macworld Expo vendors to get them to exhibit at the CES "iLounge Pavillion," the time may be ripe for members of the "Mac Ecosystem" to examine how and why they attend a Macworld Expo and see if their precious resources and money can be better spent elsewhere.

While many of us prefer Macworld Expo (after all, we are Mac users and it is a Macintosh focused show), a not insignificant percentage of vendors are cross platform or, at least, platform agnostic. For example, many if not all iPod and iPhone case manufacturers don't care what kind of computer you use. For them, CES, with its potential of more than 100,000 attendees, makes more sense on its face than a Macworld Expo. After all, if you're trying to sell cases, why not go to the show that simply has more people walking the floor?

Add to that the fact that CES is an "industry insider" show, and there may be a better chance of meeting or bumping into a reseller who can order thousands of your product as opposed to trying to sell one case to each person who walks into your booth.

So CES has upsides. What are the downsides?

If you're an attendee and you think Macworld Expo is a big show, if you think you're tired after walking the floor of the Moscone for the four days of the show, you ain't seen nothing until you've been to a CES. It makes the Bataan Death March seem like a walk in the proverbial park. The show floor is beyond huge and, with vendors spread out among its 1.7 million square feet of exhibit space, you end up walking a lot more than you ever would at a Macworld Expo.

And the waiting...the interminable waiting...

Two hour taxi line waits are not unusual. 45 minute waits at Starbucks in the Convention Center. 30 minute waits at your hotel for a cab to the Convention Center and every cab ride seemingly costs $20, no matter where you want to go. Two hour waits to board one of the free buses to the major hotels.

Like Macworld Expo, CES has conferences and speakers with various sessions you can attend. But you are certainly not going to learn how to better use iMovie at CES. There are no Macintosh focused tracks or sessions. There are no Mac OS X Server classes you can take. There's no two-day Applescript Sessions with Apple's own Applescript Guru, Sal Soghoian. So if Macintosh-focused knowledge is the reason to attend the trade show, you're out of luck.

One of the wonderful things about Macworld Expo is its location. The Moscone Center is near a dozen major and minor hotels, all within about three to five blocks. There are plenty of restaurants and shops, not to mention Starbucks, corner stores, pubs and bars. In Vegas, except for the Hilton, there is nothing within walking distance of the Las Vegas Convention Center, so your after hours social calendar (admittedly, a major reason to go to Macworld Expo!) is inconvenienced at the very least.

What are the downsides of a Macworld Expo?

As mentioned before, if you are selling platform agnostic products, Macworld Expo may be too limiting for you. The cost of a Macworld Expo may be prohibitive compared to a CES, especially factoring in the number of potential customers you'll see.

Macworld Expo is a "regional" show. Expo attendees typically come from the Bay area. Approximately 75 percent of Expo attendees live within 100 miles of the Moscone Center. If your product needs a wider reach of attendees, Expo may not be the place for you.

What about major media attention? If you can get on their radar, most major media outlets send reps to cover CES. At Macworld Expo, when Steve Jobs does a keynote, the major media outlets cover his keynote... and then leave. They might do some B roll of the show floor but none of them are there by Wednesday afternoon. They've all packed up an moved on to Las Vegas.

So, CES is bigger, gets more notice, and has more attendees...

But let's go back to the Mac Ecosystem. If you're a member of the media, both shows have pluses and minuses. There is a lot of media at CES so making appointments to talk to people can be very difficult. At a Macworld Expo, it's often as easy as walking in to a booth. But at some of the larger companies that show at both CES and Macworld, the folks you want to talk with have already gone to Las Vegas by the time late Wednesday rolls around. I spoke to the CEO of Iomega at this year's Macworld Expo only 20 minutes before he was heading off to the airport to go to CES. Paul Griffin of Griffin Technology rarely attends the party his company sponsors because he has already left San Francisco for CES by the time the party happens.

The Conference Track at a Macworld Expo is second to none. Speakers are strictly prohibited from blatantly marketing their own company's products. At CES, you never know if the person giving the talk is going to pimp their own products ad nauseum, potentially wasting your valuable time.

At a Macworld Expo, showgoers tend to walk almost every inch of the show floor. The aisles are generally well laid out and the two halls are relatively close together. I've been to CES and had no clue where a vendor was, and -- even with a map -- couldn't find the exits half the time. If you're a Macworld vendor, you can be guaranteed that 90 percent of attendees will at least walk by your booth at some point during the show.

If you are a social person, forget about bumping into friends, colleagues or celebrities on the show floor at CES. At Macworld, I've literally seen and spoken to comedian Robin Williams, Steve Tyler of Aerosmith, Herbie Hancock, Adam Savage of Mythbusters, and have become good friends with Sinbad, all because of show floor serendipity.

Is a Macworld Expo the be all and end all for every showgoer? No, of course not. But it certainly has a great deal of value for those in the Mac Ecosystem who are smart enough to take advantage of what is offered each year in San Francisco. There will be a Macworld Expo in 2010. Beyond that is anyone's guess, but it will only happen if members of the Mac Community -- users, Speakers, vendors and yes, IDG World Expo -- are committed to making it happen.



Shawn King has been an Internet Broadcaster for over 14 years and is the host of the Your Mac Life show.