In less than a week from now, Re/code — alongside scores of other tech publications — will be reporting from the International CES, a sprawling annual techfest that showcases an overwhelming amount of consumer gadgetry.
For exhibitors, it’s a chance to show off new products or concepts. For industry professionals, Las Vegas supplies the perfect setting for schmoozing and deal-making. For journalists, it’s an opportunity to get a glimpse of what’s coming down the pipeline, and also an opportunity for every public relations rep to pitch us on life-changing headphones and stuff.
But what does it mean for you, our Re/code readers? Probably not so much, even though CES will likely dominate the early tech headlines in 2015.
So, here’s a guide that will help you cut through the hype.
The first rule of CES is there is no CES.
Truth be told, this nerd Super Bowl is a huge, huge show — the world’s largest of its kind. The 3,500 exhibitors span more than two million square feet in Las Vegas and includes enough gadgetry to fill 35 football fields. The Consumer Electronics Association, which puts on the show, said it expects between 150,000 and 160,000 industry professionals to attend CES this year, on par with last year’s show.
Given its size, there’s bound to be some cool stuff — drones, wearables, “smart” home products and car tech will be big themes — but there’s also bound to be junk. If only there were smart glasses that could help us sift through it all. Or a Tinder app for CES gadgets. Swipe left.
CES may be big, but it’s not necessarily a big deal.
But there’s an element of truth to it all. At one time, the show was a very significant event. Now, as the new-product cycle compresses, and as giant tech companies like Apple, Google, Lenovo, Motorola, Microsoft, Samsung and LG host their own separate launch events throughout the year, CES has waned in importance. The CEA says that last year’s show featured a “record amount of innovation,” but I still have no idea how they quantify such a thing.
Put it this way: For us tech folks, it has become the equivalent of a high-school reunion. You’d rather have a more intimate outing with the people who actually matter to you, and everyone is already up on all the news, thanks to social media.
Even though Apple doesn’t “do” CES, everyone will be talking about Apple.
Apple may not use CES as any kind of product launchpad — and why would they? — but the Cupertino-based company has managed to suck the air out of Las Vegas on at least a few occasions in recent years. Right smack in the middle of CES 2007, there was that whole “introducing iPhone” thing at Macworld. During CES 2011, the Wall Street Journal reported that the iPhone would finally be coming to Verizon’s wireless network. The following year, Apple blogs breathlessly reported that the (nonexistent) Apple television set would be the “elephant in the room” at CES.
This year, expect a lot of Apple Watch chatter, as competitors show off their wearable wares. And plenty of other hardware makers will be boasting integration with Apple’s newish software platforms, like HomeKit, HealthKit and and CarPlay.
Speaking of cars, the automakers could make the biggest waves.
Some say that the American attitude toward car ownership is changing, especially among young people. But more than 246 million vehicles were still registered in the U.S. in 2014. And over the past few years, automakers have really upped their game at CES, showing off “connected” car features and teasing autonomous vehicles.
CES 2015 will be no exception: At least 10 auto companies will be in attendance at the show, up one from last year. This includes Audi, BMW, Toyota, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz and Ford. The latter two will be giving keynote speeches on Monday and Tuesday of next week, and our sense is that we’re going to be seeing a lot of self-driving cars, as well as news from Toyota around fuel-cell technology.
TV makers will try every which way to sell new TVs.
Curved displays! Glasses-free 3-D! 4K! OLED! Quantum-dot technology! All of these sound exciting, even without exclamation points, and if you stroll by the massive Samsung or LG or Panasonic booths at CES, you will inevitably see crowds of conference-goers staring at gorgeous displays.
But if you should find yourself among the hypnotized, try to keep a few things in mind. For one, many of these displays are too large and expensive for the average consumer. A few are also concept products that might not ever make it to market; if they do ship, don’t expect to see them until Q2 or Q3.
“True” 4K is still a bit of a unicorn, even if you buy a 4K TV. Unless you’re watching a movie or TV show that was shot in 4K, you’ll be watching upscaled 1080p content. It will look pretty good, but it still won’t look like native 4K. And if you’re streaming 4K Web video, the quality will depend on bandwidth.
And finally, there’s the cold dose of reality that global TV sales declined significantly in 2012 and 2013, the most notable plunge in a decade, according to research firm IHS iSuppli (we don’t have data yet for 2014). That could certainly change in 2015 — and 4K displays have already come down significantly in price — but much of it will depend on a broader economic recovery.
Bonus Tip: No, the Adult Entertainment Expo no longer overlaps with the International CES.
I’m not quite sure why I still get asked about this; I guess people really got a kick out of the juxtaposition of tech geeks with porn stars. But the two shows haven’t synced up timing-wise since 2011, much to the chagrin of some show-goers. The AVN Expo at the Hard Rock (hold your jokes, please) kicks off Jan. 21.
It’s debatable, however, which one features the more cutting-edge technology.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.