January 4, 2022
LAS VEGAS — What if they held a CES and nobody came?
Those were my initial thoughts Monday morning as I doubled up on vitamins and immune boosters — and made sure I had a box of masks and enough hand sanitizer to bathe in — before hitting the road for CES 2022 in Las Vegas.
Last year’s CES went virtual, but this year was supposed to be the grand comeback for the annual technology extravaganza, which in January 2020, just before COVID-19 hit, had drawn more than 170,000 attendees and 4,400 exhibitors.
Then, along with our Thanksgiving turkeys, came Omicron, which within weeks triggered an unprecedented surge in virus cases and, in several European countries, led to draconian lockdowns the likes of which we haven’t seen since that terrible spring of 2020.
A rash of high-profile cancellations followed, amid cries for CES to once again go virtual. But Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), insisted the show could proceed safely, given the strict health measures CTA had instituted — including requiring all attendees and exhibitors to be fully vaccinated and test negative for COVID just before the show’s start. The CTA also shortened the show by a day.
Arriving at the Mandalay Bay for Media Day, a preview open only to the press, I was a bit surprised to see that except for everyone wearing masks, it was pretty much business as usual. The opening research session, “CES 2022 Tech Trends to Watch,” was nearly as packed as it has been in the past, while the CES Unveiled exhibit hall, too, was crawling with journalists. The most noticeable difference was the traditional hors d’oeuvres buffet was behind plexiglass and there were servers, who tended to scowl when journalists asked for, say, a whole plate full of mini-Wellingtons and eight ahi cups.
I almost didn’t come. My hesitancy, however, had nothing to do with COVID or Omicron — rather, it was in recognition of the fact that CES has become increasingly irrelevant to us and our home entertainment readers, as the show in recent years shifted away from its legacy consumer electronics and toward innovative high-tech gadgetry. This shift is reflected in the name change of the parent organization from the Consumer Electronics Association to the Consumer Technology Association in November 2015. I can remember when the big buzz at CES was 4K Ultra HD and, before that, Blu-ray Disc versus HD DVD and, earlier, the arrival of DVD. Now, as CTA research chief Steve Koenig said in the Monday afternoon research session, the big trends to watch, and the focus of this year’s CES, is on transportation (from electric vehicles to micro-mobility); space tech; sustainable technology; and digital health.
And so it was that at CES Unveiled I saw such interesting innovations as Chess Up, a connected chessboard; Prinker, which bills itself as “the world’s first digital temporary tattoo device”; Vivoo, maker of “at-home urine test strips for personalized nutrition and lifestyle advice”; Quantum Operation Inc.’s “non-invasive blood glucose sensor”; Archelis’ “novel exoskeleton suit,” a strap-on device that reduces back and lower-leg strain while sitting or standing; Toraru’s Genchi, a crowdsourced local experience and on-demand remote agent service that allows users to explore the world from the comfort of their own office (“the requestor will be able to go anywhere as long as he has a browser,” the company says; and Morari Medical’s premature ejaculation treatment, marketed under the slogan “Ready, set, slow. Creating the future of climax control for men.”
So why did I come? In large part, because of the same concerns over COVID that drove large media outlets like TechCrunch and The Verge to withdraw from the show. As a journalist I was curious about how CES 2022 would turn out, given such a large number of defections, and I felt it was my duty as a journalist to report on the show, not run away and hide. Journalists, after all, have a mandate to tell you what’s happening, and why, regardless of how difficult or uncomfortable it might be. And as I write this column on my iPhone in the Tangiers lounge at the Sahara Hotel before retiring to my $32 a night room (our parent company, JCH Media Inc., is very frugal), I’m glad I came.
It’s my job.