Has CES lost its steam for the computer industry?

During the days leading up to CES 2014 there has been a lot of talk about how much the show has changed. Although tagged with the Consumer Electronics Show label the show is becoming dominated by items that, while loosely related, are not electronics at all. I am talking about entire pavilions filled with phone cases, battery packs, lanyards etc. These items are accessories to the products we buy, but in reality they have no real place a show like CES. This has led some to long for the days of COMDEX (Computer Dealer’s Exhibition).


For those that are not familiar with COMDEX is was a very “PC” oriented show that covered system integrators, manufacturers and software developers for computer hardware. The focus was on the computer so you were not likely to need to wade through a sea of phone cases to get to the people you wanted to talk to. COMDEX also started out as a closed show meaning that if you were not on the list you had to sit at home and get your COMDEX fix from the articles and press releases that flowed out of the show.

Sadly the people running COMDEX made a few errors in judgment which had a negative impact on the show. The first error was when they opened the show to the public and general admission. Many felt that doing this reduced the impact of the show (as well as reducing the impact of their tech sites and magazines). In early 2000 COMDEX became very restrictive on the press and only allowed a handful of press agencies into the show. Within about 4 years COMDEX was gone and the Consumer Electronics Show had replaced it entirely.

So how does that factor into CES? We see some of the same patterns from CES that we saw with COMDEX. Many manufacturers are no longer attending the show or have reduced their presence. In their place a gaggle of mobile accessory makers have descended on the show. Many magazines and technical sites only visit the Las Vegas Convention Center if they do not have any other choice. Some, more entertainment based, sites like cNET, Gizmodo etc. set up shop there and make a spectacle out of their coverage. These sites are backed by large media companies who are willing to pay the price to put them in place. Other sites do not even attend as the costs are not worth the rewards. Instead they focus on the more computer oriented CeBIT and Computex for their money.

This fall out in “computer” interest and attendance has caused more than a few to begin musings about a channel oriented show with the same computer focus as COMDEX had. It is far from a done-deal, but it does show that manufacturers, resellers and integrators realize that CES no longer offers them a return on their investment. They know that their press releases are getting buried under an avalanche of iPhone luxury case emails and announcements. CES no longer allows them to effectively get their message out to their customer base. CeBIT and Computex are a much better venue, but not everyone can attend those (due to costs) so another show is still needed in the US.

What is interesting about all of this is that while general attendance, vendor attendance and show floor space is going up each year, it is not with computer or component manufacturers. Instead places like the iLounge are growing every year making CES more and more about gadgets and accessories. The next two years for CES will be very telling and we do expect to hear more about a potential channel show in the US around November. To be honest with you I think that would be a great idea and the computer industry should not be an afterthought to a million new iPhone cases.

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