Starting with media-only events this coming Sunday, the annual major gathering of the technology world in Las Vegas known as CES (The International Consumer Electronics Show) will kick off six days of mass hype, hoopla, and hopefully real news. It will set the tone for what consumers can expect in the coming year and, as CES history has shown, there will be some interesting technology which could have a big impact and new products that won't go anywhere at all.
Started back in 1967, the consumer show has evolved into a key event where over 3,000 companies from around the world spend significant dollars (one small company estimated they spent $120,000 to exhibit last year) to launch new product innovations or rollout enhancements to existing technology. Despite a projected attendance that could exceed 160,000, CES is also still one of the few big shows in the technology world where the public cannot attend.
It was at CES where HDTV technology was first introduced on a mass scale. Starting in 1998, attendees in gazed in wonderment at TV pictures that were remarkably better than anything seen before.
CES is also where the Xbox was given its first major preview in 2001. Multiple features offered by the pioneering video game console created a large, favorable media groundswell that helped ensure customer acceptance which has continued to this day.
However, for these two examples of news making success, there are others which failed to live up to expectations. In 2007, Microsoft relied on the CES gathering to introduce the consumer version of Windows Vista to the world (it received a "best of show" award). The product proved to be a disaster for the software giant and was replaced by a far more reliable version in 2009.
Going back to 2010, the talk at CES has been about advancements in 3D TV technology. Yet, despite major marketing efforts at CES and elsewhere, 3D TV has not come anywhere close to the mass consumer acceptance which had been predicted for it. There will be 3D TV products at the show next week, but their promotion has been scaled back considerably compared to what was seen in previous events.
With the world watching CES, even the most successful companies have managed to trip over their own feet. Microsoft famously brought out a gospel choir to accompany then-CEO Steve Ballmer during his keynote address in 2012 to sing actual tweets about the company. It was widely panned and Microsoft has not exhibited at the show since.
In 2013, Qualcomm thought it would be a great idea to deliver their keynote using a series of actors, Big Bird, and the pop band Maroon 5. The result was complete confusion over what exactly they were announcing and a string of media stories ranking their presentation among the "worst ever."
Last year, famed movie Director Michael Bay (Transformers, Friday the 13th) was brought out on a hotel ballroom stage during the Samsung press conference to say a few words about the company's new TV screens. But when the teleprompter with Bay's scripted remarks failed seconds into his appearance, the director became so flustered he abruptly fled the stage, a news making event which completely overshadowed coverage of Samsung's curved screen technology.
It's hard to say which companies will do well next week and which may embarrass themselves, but there are already hints about which technologies will likely garner the most attention. Much has already been written about major announcements surrounding the connected car, the connected home, more products using virtual reality, wearable computing, 4K "ultra" HDTV, and even drones.
Yet every CES also has stories that evolve off the show floor itself, in the hotel suites and side rooms of the convention center that could have significant impact as the technology world writes its story in 2015. These may develop from the more organized presence this year of tech companies from countries such as France and Israel, who have bankrolled participation in this year's show for a large number of startup firms with intriguing products.
Another subplot revolves around the announced appearance next week by Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Wheeler may make his own news if he chooses to comment on hot-button tech industry issues such as net neutrality and the government's intent to open more broadband spectrum.
When a major technology show doesn't include three of the biggest players in the industry (Apple, Google, and Microsoft) and still generates the largest amount of trade industry coverage in the year, that's the mark of a big event. Let the show begin.