Computer companies changing role, not ditching CES

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,
Microsoft says 2012 will be its last year at the Consumer Electronics Show. ASUS isn’t holding its usual we’re-just-as-sexy-as-Apple preview event. MSI is MIA.
Computer companies have been exhibiting at CES for about 20 years, migrating to the show as Comdex died out. Microsoft Bob made his debut at CES in 1995. This “consumer friendly” information manager/productivity software package apparently got lost on the way to the airport and was never seen again. He happened in Vegas, he stayed in Vegas.
Apple was the first to pull out completely, right around the time it began its transformation from a computer company to a consumer electronics giant.
The primary purpose of CES has been to introduce new products to distributors and retailers. And some of that still happens. But as local specialty electronics stores die out and the national CE chains implode, that role is quickly diminishing.
Instead, CES increasingly serves as a public relations stage to hype new products to consumers and try to get them back into stores even while they’re still nursing their post-Christmas credit card hangovers. It’s also a chance for start-ups to get noticed and for core technology companies, such as chip makers, to get their components in front of the manufacturers and designers who still show up.
And it’s a chance to meet the people you email and Skype all year long, but never get around to seeing. You see, Apple didn’t really stop going to CES, and neither will Microsoft. They won’t exhibit or hold press conferences, or hire another marching band to introduce Son of Microsoft Bob. But like Apple people, Microsoft employees will still swarm the show, even more so once they no longer have to stand booth duty.