CES, the world’s largest tech show, has a lot to see. Or it would be if you could actually see it in person.
Walking almost deliberately in its pre-pandemic incarnations, the industry extravaganza spanned the entire Las Vegas Convention Center, the nearby Sand Expo and the chits of a dozen or more hotels up and down the strip. It was like a Disneyland for Tech: Ever since I started covering the annual January show in 2001, I fired a computer-assisted sniper rifle, attended a Tesla-coil concert, self-driving vehicles. I stopped a ride and met countless robots. I once took control of a Fujifilm blimp midflight.
This year, you can actually see all of this – but only from the small screen through which you see so much of everything these days. Vegas and CES will be without each other for the first time in decades. No more blimp rides.
The tech industry saw many conferences virtual by 2020 amid a general desire to reduce Kovid-related lockdowns, travel restrictions and viral proliferation. But CES is not an event based on the agenda of any single company or organization: it is a global crossroads, where last year, more than 170,000 participants interacted with more than 4,500 exhibitors. This is a media spectacle, but much more: a scheme for innovators, manufacturers and retailers, or a platform to meet people by plan and find out who comes next.
For CES 2021, which begins Monday, its organizers have had to work hard in the digital space, which, perhaps ironically, is unfamiliar — and a little gambling.