January 17, 2014
Observations on 10 Years of CES
By Michelle Leff Mermelstein
This year marked my 10th consecutive trip to CES. Nope, that isn’t a typo – I have worked for Nextel and Sprint for more than nine years now and was actually booked on flights for my first CES (in 2004) before I started with the company. The number “10” is a bit shocking to me – I recall hearing numbers like that from peers and such and thinking there is no way that I would ever be doing this for 10 years. Well, somehow it happened and I have become the seasoned CES veteran on the team. On the plus side, my Dad, a big tech buff, has finally stopped calling it “COMDEX” even though the last COMDEX (Computer Dealer’s Expo) show was in Vegas in 2003. Here are a few other observations on a decade of CES…
- CES is consistently a show about 180-inch TV screens and the latest and greatest in tech. LG Flex, the new smartphone that curves around your face for better sound quality, is a great example. But this show also brings out the weirdest products looking for a buyer. Really, does anyone need (or want) a soda fountain that tells you how many calories you are dispensing as you dispense them? Hold on because it gets even weirder…there was the singing president doll that plugs into your smartphone and gyrates to your tunes, the 3D printer that creates edible three-dimensional food objects out of sugar for just $5K, touchscreen-friendly glue-on nails and the iPhone case that doubles as a Taser. At CES, you can find just about anything attached to a remote control and flying up in the air. Mix that in with true tech marvels and you can imagine what it is REALLY like to walk the show floor at CES amongst the crowds.
- Somehow, booth babes and party fillers are still part of the show. So much for women’s lib but the gorgeous leggy women are still present in today’s exhibit booths and star-studded events. I just wonder if they actually attract more men to come to the booth and see the products. Or is it just a Vegas/CES thing? In any case, the best get-ups that I saw were from a paper company who dressed their babes in shredded paper cocktail dresses. Didn’t someone tell them not to wear white paper after Labor Day?
- Speaking of women, I will say there are far more women attending CES now than there were 10 years ago. Gone are the days where you could do cartwheels down the length of the women’s bathroom and not hit anyone. But we still don’t see a strong presence of women on the keynote list or executive rosters at tech companies. For my daughter’s sake, I am hopefully that the current push on STEM education will help change this in the next 10 years.
- CES is all about making news – for better or for worse. By now, I am sure you have heard about a Hollywood director walking off the stage at an event. And you might have heard about a wireless carrier CEO (NOT Sprint) that crashed another carrier’s party (also NOT Sprint). But this really is the show for talking about innovation coming in the next year or so. The term “CES-worthy” is no joke. Cutting through the clutter isn’t easy. Taking you back a few years, then-Sprint President Bill Esrey gave a keynote at CES in 2002.During his remarks, the famous “trench coat guy” from the Sprint PCS ads walked on stage and was a hit with the audience. The theme that year was focused on what life would be like with 3G. Flash forward to this year and Sprint held an exclusive event for 50 reporters and analysts with a fire side chat about Sprint Spark, the 4G LTE technology already bringing 60Mbps peak speeds to 11 markets after just being announced on Oct. 30. Now THAT is progress! Just as everything is bigger in Vegas, anything you announce at CES better be big news or no one will hear it.
The show is exhausting, but it is also a great place to reconnect with peers from partner companies and plan for the coming year and meeting with reporters to talk about how we can work together on future projects. So my best advice for the novice heading to CES next year? I would say to wear good shoes, expect the cab line at the airport to take an hour even though you can see your hotel and decide to work on the flight out but read a good book on the way back. And try to drop at least a quarter into a slot machine at some point during the show. Even if it ends up being at the airport as you wait for your flight home.
Michelle Leff Mermelstein manages wireless device communications at Sprint. She is based in the Washington, D.C. area. She is knowledgeable on Sprint’s overall device PR strategy and takes the lead on launching Apple devices. Michelle can be reached at email@example.com.