Wed. Jan 26th, 2022

Is anyone going to CES this year?

A long-simmering question in the technology world will finally get its answer as the influential gadget program returns to the Las Vegas Strip after an outage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We know it will be a smaller show this year, for obvious reasons,” said Jean Foster, senior vice president at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the event’s organizer. Several large technology companies have abandoned plans to attend in person. The latest sign of its shrinking size was Friday’s announcement that CES will run one day shorter than originally planned.

The expansive exhibition floors open Wednesday as the distribution of COVID-19’s Omicron variant has raised concerns about the safety of indoor events and international travel. By the end of December, the CTA was expecting between 50,000 and 75,000 participants for this week’s conference, up from more than 170,000 who came for the last personal meeting two years ago.

Some stubborn CES fans thought until last week to go or stay home.

“An online CES is not a real CES,” Prince Constantine of the Kingdom of the Netherlands said in a December interview. “You have to see the products and meet the people.” But a week later, the royal, who regularly serves as a special envoy for Dutch technology start-ups, decided to stay home. His country is sending a barefoot crew to CES 2022. So are many big technology companies – if they send anyone.

A worker helps set up a stand in front of CES International in January 2020The CTA took CES online in 2021 as COVID-19 hospitalizations increased worldwide and vaccines were not yet widely available [File: John Locher/AP]

The last physical CES in January 2020 pumped an estimated $ 300 million into the Las Vegas economy. Few participants would then have known about the coronavirus outbreak that was emerging in Central China and still months away from being declared a pandemic. The CTA took the conference online in 2021 as COVID-19 hospitalizations increased worldwide and vaccines were not yet widely available.

The trading group announced eight months ago that it is ready to return to Nevada in 2022, but will offer options for remote participants to virtually see it. Those who do travel to CES should show that they have been fully vaccinated and will receive a COVID-19 test kit. Masks are required inside.

“CES is perhaps the most important economic event of the year in terms of conventions,” says Alan Feldman, a former casino manager who is a fellow at the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Even a significantly reduced event would be “something to look forward to” for local hotels, restaurants, casinos, retailers and entertainment teams, Feldman said.

With a smaller audience and the same expansive footprint occupied by some 2,000 exhibitors, and a desire to keep people at a distance, the CTA’s Foster said the “major change for people” would be more empty space and wider corridors .

Much about the Omicron coronavirus variant remains unknown, including whether it causes more or less serious illness. Scientists say Omicron spreads even more easily than other coronavirus strains, including Delta.

Even without a pandemic to quell the party, tech industry analyst Carolina Milanesi said “major industry events like this are becoming less important than they used to be” as digital technology has provided other ways to network and keep up with trends .

CES previously stood for Consumer Electronics Show, but Milanesi said the decades-old gathering has become less of a place to find the next line of consumer equipment and more focused on long-term technology cycles, such as self-driving cars or the artificial intelligence applications merging into smart homes and cities.

“You’re not going to CES anymore to see what’s going to be in the Best Buy near you by the summer,” Milanesi said.

New expo categories centered around the digital assets called non-swingable tokens, or NFTs, as well as space technology and food, reflect the latest technological buzzwords in the minds of investors and marketers. Some companies also plan to increase their vision for the next generation of the Internet – a collection of virtual worlds known as the metaverse – even though it’s being explored from the confines of a physical convention floor.

Milanesi has been attending CES regularly for a decade to keep an eye on technology companies and trends, but public health concerns have made her wonder if she would go this time. She made a final decision in mid-December to attend, but plans to do things differently – to visit the exhibition halls, but to skip big talk events that she can watch from her hotel room.

“I have not yet decided on the cocktail hour,” she said. “It is a great reason to go to CES and meet people face to face. With a glass in your hand, people become a little more comfortable discussing things. ”

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