CES 2012: what I learned, why I'm not going back

I'm back from Las Vegas with a full notebook and my traditional case of the CES flu. Here's what I saw and why I'm not going back.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

I spent the last week surrounded by geeks. Crammed into the Las Vegas Monorail, slammed around in the backs of cabs on drives named after Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis and Wayne Newton, pushed along through a sea of humanity in the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center, breathing secondhand smoke.

Yeah, I'm back from CES.


You'll notice that I didn't file a single story about a CES product or event while I was there. That was deliberate.

No offense to my news-gathering colleagues, but the current news value of most of the products shown at the 2012 International CES (as the show's promoters insist that it be officially called, like that's gonna happen) was near zero. As history shows, some of those engineering prototypes and pre-production sample hardware will never see the light of day or will quickly flop in the marketplace and disappear quietly.

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You wouldn't know that from the sheer number of reporters and bloggers at the show, however. If you were trying to aggregate that stuff in an RSS feed or a Twitter list, I feel your pain. The ratio of noise to signal was overwhelming.

This is nothing new.

I started my editorial career in the trade magazine industry decades ago. I was the most junior of editors on a tiny staff that churned out monthly and bimonthly magazines aimed at professionals in specialized industries. The "news" sections of those magazines were literally made up of rewritten press releases. It was cheap content, and it was useful as a direct pipeline between product manufacturers and readers who didn't otherwise have an easy way to connect.

The current overload in tech blogging reminds me of those days. You have a small number of high-traffic websites and well-known blogs of varying quality, and then a gazillion smaller satellite websites and blogs all posting insane numbers of reports, dutifully reposting the 21st century equivalents of press releases, free of any kind of critical analysis.

Filtering through that noise level to find the small bits of interesting writing and reporting is difficult. Way too difficult for me, in fact, which is why I didn't even bother with a CES-focused news feed last week. I saw what I wanted to see, and I'm now catching up on the coverage I missed last week.

I actually did see a few interesting products at CES, which I'll be writing about in short order. But my primary goal was to walk the floors and see which technologies have the most support, as measured by marketing dollars and public messaging, and to determine which companies know what they're doing and which ones are struggling to find their way.

CES is an incomplete picture, of course, especially when the largest consumer electronics company in the world, Apple, is represented exclusively by its enormous ecosystem of apps and accessories.

But after all that walking and meeting and conversing, I came away with some valuable data points and some pointers to unmistakable trends. I will write about those over the next few weeks, after the CES noise level dies down.

I also came back with lots of good memories from visits with friends and colleagues.

Oh, and the CES flu.

Now I remember why I skipped CES for the past two years. Next year, I'll watch CES from a distance. Is is too early to book flights to Hawaii?

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