CES is a Time for Gadget Fun, But is it Still Relevant at All?

This week marks the annual Consumer Electronics Showcase. These three words explain it all. Vendors and brands showcase their latest gadgets and gizmos for the world to see. CES is usually where big-brands show potential buyers what they can offer. It’s also a place for smaller brands or OEMs to find brands that can pick up their wares for selling in other markets.

But is CES still relevant in this day and age?

Big companies have made it clear. They want to control when and where to make major announcements. Apple has learned and mastered how to handle big news, evident with how it ceased keynoting at the MacWorld Expo. It’s the same with Google. They want to bring out news in their own time, at their own terms, and in their own turf. Somehow, the concept of participating at an annual trade show held every January no longer fits in with this ideal.

Another big brand, Microsoft, has learned its lesson, and the company’s latest keynote presentation in CES is an indication that big announcements and fixed schedules don’t really match. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer delivered his final CES keynote after the company keynoting for 15 years to date. Ballmer promised innovation with Windows 8 and Xbox, but did not really present anything we didn’t already know. Sure, there’s American Idol host and TV show producer Ryan Seacrest to help liven things up. But rehashed Windows 8 announcements are not really that exciting compared with, say, last year’s iPhone 4S announcement by Apple or Google’s Galaxy Nexus media presentation.

CES has lost its magic, at least for the big brands. The official word is that Microsoft wants to be able to make announcements in their own time, as Corporate Vice President for Corporate Communications Frank X. Shaw explains. “[W]e won’t have a keynote or booth after this year because our product news milestones generally don’t align with the show’s January timing.” Sources from within the Consumer Electronics Association and Microsoft say, though, that it was a matter of the CEA kicking Microsoft out, so that it can offer the keynote presentation to bidding.

Either way, it’s true — with product cycles not being fixed to January each year, announcements are best made when milestones are met, and innovations are being done.

But still, for us consumers, being able to feel actual prototype units of upcoming products is a great thing. For vendors, suppliers and startups, being able to mingle with investors and brand-names can make or break one’s business. So is CES still relevant? It’s a mixed bag. It has lost its magic, in terms of bringing forth breakthroughs. But it’s still important for businesses that thrive on networking during trade shows, and consumers who get giddy with excitement at the prospect of holding the latest, upcoming, yet-to-be-launched gadgets.