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Is CES Still Relevant?

The Chinese have arrived, and they plan to disrupt the traditional CE players as much as possible and take market share away from them fast.

The Verge

A version of this essay was originally published at Tech.pinions, a website dedicated to informed opinions, insight and perspective on the tech industry.


When I head off to the 2016 edition of CES next week, it will be the 37th year I will be attending the Las Vegas tech expo. I have actually attended more that 37, because CES used to have summer shows — I did at least 18 of those, as well. But I have seen CES evolve significantly over this time, and its role in our tech world continues to be important and, in my view, still very relevant.

I realize this flies in the face of many who find the show too crowded, noisy and confusing, and have decided to “watch” CES from their easy chairs or office desks instead of fighting cab lines, paying ridiculous prices for hotels and rubbing elbows with 175,000 of their best friends. I have been tempted to do this myself, since pretty much every press conference will be blogged live, every keynote will be accessible online, and with 1,700 reporters and bloggers covering the show, a desktop warrior could easily cover the show from his or her home or office.

The ability to touch and feel products and do one-on-one meetings with vendors is still worth it.

But even with those logistical issues, I find the show itself fascinating, and the ability to touch and feel products and do one-on-one meetings with vendors is still worth it for our Creative Strategies and Tech.pinions staff. Of course, it is impossible to cover the show completely, but by doing some scouting beforehand and setting up only the meetings I want to take, it is still worth my making the annual trek to Vegas to check out the latest and greatest tech products that may hit the market in 2016.

Since many in the media know that I have gone to CES for so long, I often get questions about this show. The first is how it has changed over the years; and second, what are the key things I will be looking for when I attend the show. My first CES was in 1976, and back then it was literally just a consumer electronics show. I skipped a few years in the late 1970s, but when I first started attending CES it was mainly about audio and video, and included things like household appliances and other electronic goods of various types. PCs had not hit the scene, and while there were some primitive games systems at my first show, like the Atari game console, most of the ’70s and ’80s really did not have the types of products CES has today.

These early shows also defined what were often called “booth babes,” and in many ways this definition was apt. Many of the electronic vendors would hire Playboy Bunnies and Penthouse Pets to sit in their booth and sign autographs to lure customers into their area. Thankfully, CES outlawed this by the early 1990s.

The biggest change to CES came in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the granddaddy of PC shows, Comdex, began to falter. Although CES had tried to get PC vendors into their show in the early 1990s, the two shows were just 40 days apart, and CES itself had lost some of its luster. But with the eventual demise of Comdex, CES started really courting the PC crowd, and very soon CES became a consumer electronics and PC show, and over time, the addition of various spinoffs of the PC industry, such as smartphones, tablets, IoT, wearables and other extensions of our tech world got wrapped into the show.

A month ago, the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) changed its name to the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) to reflect the broader scope of products at CES.

This is at the heart of the organization behind the CES name change. From the beginning, the group that sponsored the show was known as the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). But a month ago, it changed its name to the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) to reflect the broader scope of products at CES.

This is a very important move and distinction for CTA. In the past, the main companies that were part of the organization were mostly from the CE industry. But now its members include companies in the PC industry, telecom and communications industries and, most recently, most of the automakers. Companies in the health-care industry that are also targeting consumers with digital representations of their products and services are now members of CTA.

Two of the three main things I will be researching at CES are related to the auto and health industries, as both are taking direct aim at consumers. As researchers, they have now come onto our radar as we research the impact of tech on many new market areas. The CEO of Volkswagen will use his CES keynote to launch the company’s first self-driving car. All of the major automakers will be at the show to demonstrate how smart their cars have become by using things like Apple’s AutoPlay or Google’s Android Auto or their own versions of these types of services that include embedded cellular/Wi-Fi services inside the car. Major health-industry companies, including United Healthcare, will be there showing their backing of various fitness trackers, and how their own Web services are being used to help people navigate their health issues.

The Chinese have arrived, and they plan to disrupt the traditional CE players as much as possible and take market share away from them fast.

The third thing I will be checking out is the Chinese companies that will be at CES. Their increased presence is kind of deja vu for me: In the early 1990s, the giant Japanese players started embracing CES in a big way. Companies like Sony, Toshiba, Panasonic, etc., made CES the place they showcased their wares, and while most still have a major presence at CES today, the Chinese companies Huawei, Hisense and at least six more have huge booths on this year’s show floor, and will have a major presence.

This is very significant. Some of the Japanese companies are really struggling, and are losing ground to the South Koreans and now these Chinese CE companies as they move into their territory and become serious competitors. Of course, CTA and the CES show is international, and it embraces companies from all over the world. But make no mistake, the Chinese have arrived, and they plan to disrupt the traditional CE players as much as possible and take market share away from them fast.


Tim Bajarin is the president of Creative Strategies Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981, and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others. Reach him @Bajarin.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.