For an event that's supposedly dying, the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas demonstrated that it still has a lot of life left.
In the last several years, tech pundits, including yours truly, have taken to writing off CES. In a column before the opening of last year's show, I wrote that we were seeing the "beginning of the end of CES as the tech industry's major annual event."
But the show clearly isn't on its deathbed yet.
More than 150,000 people attended this year's event, as CES set records for the numbers of companies exhibiting and the square feet (1.9 million) over which they sprawled. Those companies included industry giants such as Samsung and Sony as well as startups like Vinci,
Media representatives from across the country and the globe flocked to Vegas to get a glimpse at what the technology industry is cooking up for consumers this year and beyond. And, as it does every year, CES drew a crowd of celebrities, including former President Bill Clinton and Mexican film director Guillermo del Toro.
To be sure, the skeptics aren't entirely wrong. While this year's CES may have been a record-breaker, the event clearly has diminished in importance.
In the middle of the last decade, when Microsoft was the biggest tech company in the world and its CEO at the time, Bill Gates, gave the annual opening keynotes, CES was the must-attend event in the tech
CES is much less important now. Gates is long gone from the show. His successor, Steve Ballmer, after carrying the opening keynote torch for four years, is gone now, too (although he did make a cameo appearance at this year's opening keynote).
Microsoft ceased renting space on the showroom floor after last year. Also absent from CES were Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG), Facebook and Amazon, which are among the most important tech companies in the world today.
Even companies that attend the show tend to reserve major announcements for other venues, either at events they throw themselves or at conferences focused on a specific segment of the industry, like next month's Mobile World Congress. And in a world where our gadgets are increasingly distinguished not by what they look like but by the software we run on them, a show focused largely on hardware feels anachronistic.
Yet CES keeps drawing crowds and companies because it remains a valuable event for them.
The show's chief purpose has long been to allow manufacturers of electronics products to showcase their products to distributors, retailers and -- through the press -- to consumers. And CES remains an important opportunity for electronics companies, particularly smaller ones, to get noticed so their products can get on store shelves.
CES tends to serve as a site for summits between the technology industry and the other industries, organizations and government entities with which it interacts, including Hollywood, the Federal Communications Commission and the automobile industry.
While it may not offer as much as it once did in the way of brand-spanking-new stuff, CES remains one of the few places -- maybe the only place -- where we tech journalists can get a sense of the state of the industry in its entirety. While at the show, I was able to check up on the latest in home automation, gesture recognition, chips for mobile devices, smart and ultra-high-definition televisions, new display technologies, 3-D printing and more. I'd have a hard time getting that same breadth of updates and information anywhere else.
So while CES may not be what it once was, you can bet that I'll be going back next year. And I'm guessing I won't be alone -- by a long shot.
Contact Troy Wolverton at 408-840-4285 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.mercurynews.com/troy-wolverton or Twitter.com/troywolv.
The big show
The Consumer Electronics Show remains a jumbo-sized event in the tech world, even if its influence has diminished
Big crowds: More than 150,000 people are estimated to have attended this year's show in Las Vegas.
Lots to see: Some 3,250 exhibitors had booths, a record number
Lots of space: Together, those booths occupied 1.9 million square feet of space, another record.
Noticeably absent: Microsoft wasn't an exhibitor this year. Neither was Apple, Google, Facebook or Amazon -- some of the most important companies in tech.
Source: Consumer Electronics Association, Mercury News research