CES looking more like That 90s Show

1 January 2014 by Steve Blum

“I just applied to Google’s internship program”.

Silicon Valley’s A-list companies of 20 years past are showing renewed enthusiasm for CES, which begins next week. It opens with a keynote presentation on Monday, 6 January 2014 by the new CEO of Intel, Brian Krznanich. I’m particularly interested in seeing if he’s still calling tablets and phones “ultra-mobile PCs”.

Last year, when the young and sexy mobile industry’s interest in the show was peaking, the lead off slot was taken by Qualcomm’s Paul Jacobs, who knows the difference between saying odd things to memorably drive home a point and just saying odd things. Along with Ericsson’s Hans Vestberg, also a former CES keynoter, he’s been unfortunately relegated to an hour long Tuesday panel that’ll be the week’s headline mobile event.

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer steps out at CES for the first time with a solo keynote, also on Tuesday. Either she’s there to launch a new technology focused initiative – CES has never been a bully pulpit for content or services – or she’s just taking advantage of the huge in-person and online audience the show draws. For both her and Krzanich, it’s a chance to show they can stand in the Vegas spotlight as industry leaders. Or not.

There’s no doubt why Cisco’s CEO, John Chambers, is coming back as a keynoter. Even when Cisco was in the consumer electronics business, he used CES as a convenient backdrop for what amounted to a tacky corporate TV production, complete with cheering employees conspicuously planted up front. Care to guess why CES assigned him to an offsite venue in late afternoon, when it’s impossible to move around Las Vegas? Hint: it wasn’t to maximise attendance by stroppy, footsore conventioneers.

Kazuo Hirai, CEO of Sony, completes the 90s revival theme by taking over the keynote slot held by Samsung last year. It’ll be a trip down memory lane: booting up the Pentium Vaio, dialling in to a Cisco router and reading your Yahoo mail. All we lack is a surprise appearance by Bill Gates, reprising Microsoft Bob. Anyone care to bet?