Can the giant tech show CES pull off an online-only pandemic edition?


The CES tech fair normally pulls tens of thousands of people into gadget-packed trade fair halls. This year, an entire industry will stay home as the world’s biggest tech fair goes online. — dpa

The world’s biggest tech show CES usually kicks off the year in gadgets with its annual fireworks display of new products in Las Vegas.

This year, the city’s sprawling trade fair halls will remain empty of the usual buzz of industry insiders, tech reporters and gadget nerds, as the show ventures into its first-ever online-only event, as a result of the pandemic.

It’s a risky venture for the gadget show, which kicks off on Monday. If the companies’ online announcements go unheeded in the vastness of the internet, the traditional CES brand could be damaged.

At the same time, if things go too well, large manufacturers in particular could lose the incentive to spend a lot of money on their presence in the desert city year after year.

Apple, for example, has been putting on its own events for years and a growing number of smartphone brands are launching their flagship models online and independent of any tech conference.

CES boss Gary Shapiro is already preparing himself for the fact that after the end of the pandemic, everything will not simply go back to the way it was.

The organisers are already selling space in the halls for January 2022, but Shapiro says even this will be a “hybrid event” adding digital possibilities on top of the on-site event. Exactly what the mix will look like has so far remained unclear.

Until now, CES lived from the fact that tens of thousands of industry insiders and thousands of journalists from all over the world gathered in one place and feverishly battled for days through a flood of new products and ideas.

Especially for startups with their limited resources, it’s a rare opportunity to get major attention quickly and show their products in action.

Most recently, the fair had also increasingly become a showcase for the car industry. Both aggressive young electric car suppliers and established manufacturers, in the industry’s shift to computers on wheels, preferred the tech show to the old horsepower parade in Detroit.

This year, of all years, as the shift towards electric mobility accelerates, they will have to do without this platform.

Industry analysts expect the CES this year to reflect the shift in users’ interests during the pandemic.

“Consumers are spending a lot more time working at home,” analyst Thomas Husson of market research firm Forrester Research outlines, adding that entertainment also plays a much larger role.

As a result, there is a revived demand for powerful notebooks, better TVs and headphones for gamers, among other things. Accordingly, new display technologies for TV sets are emerging as technological CES novelties this year.

In addition, increased health awareness is driving interest in devices such as air filters and fitness technology.

But you have to see a new TV in action – not watch online footage – to appreciate the leap in picture quality. You have to be able to hear a loudspeaker. You have to hold a smartphone in your hand.

That’s why industry insiders firmly believe that the industry will continue to need a platform like CES or its Berlin counterpart IFA.

“We will definitely be back at CES,” says the head of hi-fi specialist Harman, Michael Mauser. The US company taken over by Samsung, with well-known brands such as JBL, AKG or Infinity, usually books a large exhibition space in the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas.

It’s all about experiences for the customers, Mauser emphasises. “You have to feel it. We will be back as soon as we can.” – dpa

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