As I write this in late December, the annual Consumer Electronics Show, CES, is a few weeks away. Every year the tech world descends upon Las Vegas to show off the latest, greatest, or at the very least, current. If I step back, I can understand why this kind of event would be appealing to people who are not part of the tech industry. If you’re fascinated by the latest tech, an industry-only event showing products that won’t appear in the wild for months or years would understandably be “your jam.”
The reality is . . . different. I went for 20 years in a row, witnessing everything from—uh, you know, it all kinda blends together. There was snow one year. That was cool. The only overall trend I can take from all that time is the progression of many Chinese brands from being buried in the back of lesser convention halls, to the front of said halls, to prominent positions among more storied brands, to eventually eclipsing those brands entirely.
More difficult than pulling together a cohesive story about all those years is just trying to get a cohesive story out of one year. CES is sprawling chaos. With multiple buildings, thousands of exhibits, and over 100,000 people, it’s impossible to see everything. You won’t even see a fraction of what you want to see. Trying to navigate between meetings while still seeing what you need to see creates a special kind of stress exacerbated by poor crowd management and people who seem to have no place to go but still insist on walking slowly while blocking traffic.
I love and hate CES. Attending as press, there to do a job that requires literally miles of walking every day, is equal parts frustrating and tiring. “But you get to go to CES” is a common rebuttal, but this perspective only sees the cool tech and not the job needed to cover it. Imagine going to the Super Bowl but needing to write a report about every concession stand and bathroom stall before the game ends. By the end, you’ll have seen none of the game and developed a lasting hatred for all of humanity.
On the other hand, it’s great to see friends and colleagues who I rarely see in person. Also, the tech is often very cool. Last year I went for less than a day just to see a prototype of a next-generation display technology. I saw folding OLED screens years before they became mainstream. Another year, Sony brought out one of its new and upcoming performing artists, one “Taylor Swift,” to perform a song at the press conference. I wonder what happened to her. Glasses-free 3D, MicroLED, and endless amps, speakers, headphones, and more, all seen early enough to write about. Best of all, the drive between LA and Vegas is lovely, burning across the Mojave Desert through Baker and Barstow and Berdoo.
So it’s with mixed emotions that I tell you, as of right now, I’m not going to CES 2024. Partly, it’s the cost. Vegas hotels jack up their prices for every major event, especially CES. It’s hard to justify dropping $1500 to $2000 for less than a week when I could visit pretty much anywhere in the world for a month with that budget. Add in the crowds and the inevitability of getting sick (even pre-COVID this was a near-guarantee), and it’s all rather a hard sell. Plus, I’ll learn about all the new things via press releases and word of mouth. It’s impossible to judge a product accurately at a show anyway, so really all you get from CES is an idea about what you want to check out later. With a bit of due diligence, I can do that from home.
I won’t miss most of the people, but I will miss some of the people, and I’ll know what I want to review in the coming months within hours of the show opening. All that for free—how’s that for a bargain? I’ll also miss the food. That’s easily the most surprising thing about Las Vegas: brilliant eateries everywhere. Oh well, maybe next year.
. . . Geoffrey Morrison