Was an in-person CES worth it?
Photo: Consumer Technology Association

Was an in-person CES worth it?

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Good morning! This Friday, tons of companies pulled out of CES 2022, as did attendees. But what was it like for people who actually went to Las Vegas? I’m Janko Roettgers, and my first CES was in 2013, when I made the mistake of booking a room at Circus Circus.

What we learned about CES

Believe it or not: Tens of thousands of people went to Las Vegas this week for CES. That’s a far cry from the roughly 180,000 people the show used to attract in pre-pandemic times, as numerous companies, including big names like Amazon, Google and Microsoft, pulled out due to the massive omicron surge.

Photos posted by some of the folks who did make it to Vegas painted a decidedly uneven picture. Sure, there were plenty of empty hallway, press room and show floor shots. But there were also moments that looked almost normal, and the press conferences that did happen in person actually seemed to draw some crowds. Maybe it was all just a matter of perspective?

Like many other media outlets, Protocol decided to cover the show from afar. To get a better sense of what CES 2022 really was like, we talked with two people who were there in person.

The smaller attendance was noticeable. Gallium Ventures founder Heather Delaney had been chronicling her impressions all week on Twitter, where her photos had a bit of a “last person left after the apocalypse” feel.

  • “Surreal is probably the best word for CES in 2022,” she said. “There are so many spaces that should have been booths. I’m social distancing without even thinking about it.”
  • The sparse attendance did help her feel less nervous about COVID-19. “CES itself does feel safe,” Delaney told me.
  • Mask and vaccine mandates further helped to alleviate her concerns, and most attendees seemed to be following the rules. “Everybody is very conscious about it,” she said.
  • Attending the show also helped her get together with friends and colleagues she hadn’t seen in person for two years. “On a personal level, it has [been worth it],” Delaney said.
  • But was it worth it for companies? “No, it wasn’t,” Delaney said. “It is a bit heartbreaking to see booths that are void of guests.”

Being there in person had some benefits. Techsponential President Avi Greengart had canceled his plans for the show when everyone else pulled out, but changed his mind this week and caught a last-minute flight to Vegas.

  • One of the reasons Greengart changed his mind? With so many people canceling, flights and hotels that usually have to be booked half a year ahead of time were suddenly available, and cheap. “Things got inexpensive,” he said.
  • Greengart also wanted to see products firsthand, as opposed to over Zoom. “There are certain things that you can really only experience in person,” he told me shortly after testing out TCL’s new AR glasses.
  • The show itself didn’t feel as deserted to him as it did to Delaney, and he actually enjoyed not having to deal with overcrowded booths and long taxi lines. “It’s absolutely delightful,” Greengart said.
  • Greengart did spend a lot more time on the show floor this year simply because all of his hotel room meetings fell through. He was OK with that, but it may be a much bigger problem for companies that rely on these backroom meetings to make deals. “This year, there are no back rooms,” Greengart said. “This is more of an exhibition [than a trade show].”

Whether it was worth holding CES in person may not be fully clear until we know how many people made it back home safely, without catching COVID-19.

  • The show’s safety precautions were pretty robust, but bringing tens of thousands of people to Vegas is risky no matter what protocols are in place, especially with Nevada experiencing what Gov. Steve Sisolak called “an alarming number” of cases this week.
  • It also didn’t take a lot of effort to find posts of people posing for unmasked group photos and selfies — ironically, one of those shots included CTA CEO Gary Shapiro and Abbott CEO Robert Ford, whose company makes the sought-after BinaxNow COVID-19 tests.

If CES doesn’t turn into a super-spreader event, it may be able to take some of the lessons learned this year and apply them to post-pandemic times. One example: Attendees could use color-coded stickers to signal whether they were comfortable with handshakes or not. Maybe we’ll finally figure out how to avoid the much-dreaded annual CES flu.

— Janko Roettgers (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM ZOOM

While we were all Zooming, the Zoom team was thinking ahead and designing new offerings that could continue to enable seamless collaboration, communication and connectivity while evolving with the shifting workplace culture. Protocol sat down with Yuan to talk about Zoom's evolution, the future of work and the Zoom products he's most excited about.

Learn more

People are talking

Eric Schmidt said social media makes money by maximizing “outrage”:

  • “You maximize revenue, you maximize engagement. To maximize engagement, you maximize outrage.”

Gary McKay said new BioWare workers don’t have to relocate anymore:

  • “We’re looking for new talent from anywhere in North America, and we’ll meet them where they live.”

Making moves

Jeff Wilcox joined Intel to work on systems-on-chip products. Wilcox is one of the execs who helped Apple make its own chips.

Melissa Waters is Upwork's new CMO. Waters was most recently Instagram’s global VP of Marketing.

Christina Kosmowski is LogicMonitor’s new CEO. She’s been president of the company for a little over a year and previously worked at Salesforce.

Patrick McCarthy joined Precisely as CRO. McCarthy has held leadership roles at companies including SAP and Oracle.

The Thiel Foundation has a new class of fellows. The organization brought about two dozen young people into the entrepreneurship program.

Trump's Truth Social app has a release date. Its App Store listing says the app is expected Feb. 21, which is Presidents' Day in the U.S.

In other news

Bitcoin miners are stuck in the middle of deadly protests in Kazakhstan. One of the biggest bitcoin mining hubs shut down as the country lost internet access for a time, taking about 15% of the world’s bitcoin miners offline.

Sonos continues to win its fight against Google. The International Trade Commission finalized its ruling that Google violated Sonos patents with its cast and audio tech. Google's already rolling out changes to its Nest speakers.

Meta is being sued for its role in a federal security guard’s death. Angela Underwood Jacobs is alleging Facebook allowed antigovernment extremists to plot her brother’s killing on the platform.

Snap wants the word “spectacles.” The company is suing the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for turning down its application to trademark the word “spectacles” for its smart glasses. The office said Snap’s version of the word isn’t distinctive enough.

LinkedIn is getting into live events. It’s introducing a platform for listing, hosting and marketing events, which will start out as an audio tool and eventually incorporate video.

Bolt is hopping on the four-day workweek trend. The ecommerce developer said it got good results after trying out a shortened week in the fall.

The Oculus app is getting big. The mobile app for Meta’s VR devices has been downloaded about 2 million times globally since Christmas Day, according to Apptopia and Sensor Tower.

E3 2022 is going online-only. The video game trade event will take place virtually for the second year as COVID-19 concerns persist.

‘Don’t Look Up’ has everything to do with Big Tech

Netflix’s “Don’t Look Up” obviously pulls from some real-life elements: The president in the movie represents Donald Trump, and the NASA scientists represent the science no one wants to listen to. Peter Isherwell, the tech leader who claims he can save the planet, and make money while he’s at it, looks pretty similar to a Silicon Valley exec. The question is, who?

Does Isherwell more closely represent Jeff Bezos, who’s putting tons of money toward climate preservation? Or is he supposed to be Bill Gates, whose foundation has put a lot of money toward combating climate change? Try unpacking that over the weekend.

A MESSAGE FROM ZOOM

While we were all Zooming, the Zoom team was thinking ahead and designing new offerings that could continue to enable seamless collaboration, communication and connectivity while evolving with the shifting workplace culture. Protocol sat down with Yuan to talk about Zoom's evolution, the future of work and the Zoom products he's most excited about.

Learn more

Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to sourcecode@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you Sunday.

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