Nobody Wins At CES

Rather than do a CES pre-round-up of exciting products I’d like to address this interesting slant on the whole “massive electronics trade show in the middle of the desert” concept that has kept the Gadgets crew here up for the past few weeks. MG said Apple won CES. He was being snide, but, in a way, honest because, in the end, nobody wins CES.

The Consumer Electronics Show is, as its name implies, a show for consumer electronics. These include, but are not limited to, TVs, DVD players, Blu-Ray players (if they still make those), and accessories. TV stands! TV brackets! Speakers! Remotes! In fact, there’s an entire hall dedicated to the Asian purveyors of the components that make up those consumer electronics, a sort of Fishmongers Row to the CE industry where the smell is at least far more tolerable.

You’ll notice that nowhere in there did I mention PCs, laptops, cellphones, tablets, and Microsoft Windows. That’s because those are typically termed “mobile devices” or PCs or operating systems. There are trade shows for those, as well, although they are far fewer these days than they ever were. Why? Because the Internet took away all the fun of schlepping a booth to the Javits Center in New York and paying for hotel rooms and food for a bunch of salesmen to stand around giving out tote bags. Why have a COMDEX when you can get Engadget, The Verge, and Gizmodo to cover your geegaw the moment it’s launched. Why pay $100,000 in booth fees at SXSW as a start-up when you can talk to TechCrunch to get approximately the same number of eyes? It doesn’t make sense.

CES is really for buyers. Sure it’s a hoot to see what gadgets will launch at back-to-school in September and we, regrettably, will be there reporting on start-ups and cool gadgets we find. But it’s buyers – men and women who love to spend a week eating steak and playing backgammon at MGM grand – who really drive CES. Buyers may be considerably more plugged in these days than they were in the past, but the orders they place at CES are usually the last time they actively pursue the noephillic instinct until January of the next year. Again, with the rise of the Internet, this is swiftly changing but for now the mom-and-pop electronics shop in Scranton trying to fight off Amazon and Best Buy comes to CES to see which TVs to stock.

Microsoft left CES because the news cycle it imparted on the industry didn’t suit it. You can talk backroom politics all you want, but in the end Microsoft could make its own news without CES. Every company is beholden to produce something new and great for CES and their R&D teams are geared to follow this schedule. Microsoft wanted off the treadmill, and they’re big enough to do it.

Ultimately, nobody wins CES because there’s nothing to win. Most products announced don’t launch for months (if not years) and the major news articles end up being trend pieces rather than actual reviews. Sometimes companies can take the air out of the event by launching something “huge” – the Palm Pre is the last item in recent memory that really stole the show – but CES is about selling real goods to real people, not impressing some tech blogger with a 1 terabyte cellphone. It behooves us to remember that the Consumer in Consumer Electronics Show is less a term of endearment and more a target for a precision strike. We are the consumer. They want to sell to us. CES is geared to making that happen.

If you’re a gearhead, I don’t want to cancel Christmas on you here. Yuck it up. We’ll be covering it in our own way over here. However, just remember that CES exists not to offer solace to the unmitigated fanboy. It exists to make money and when that money can be made elsewhere, CES will go away.