The annual Consumer Electronics Show is right around the corner (Jan. 5 through Jan. 8), and once again, it will be a hybrid event, taking place simultaneously in Las Vegas and inside a browser-based virtual meeting hall, as was the case last year.
Back in Las Vegas
The expanded size of the physical venue in Las Vegas for the 2023 show is an indication of enthusiasm for in-person interactions despite the continued digital element, says the Consumer Technology Association, the sponsor organization of the decades-old show.
Over 100,000 attendees are the goal for CES, according to the Association. Attendees are coming from 173 countries, territories, and regions, and over 4,700 members of the media have been registered.
“I think people are excited about CES, they’re excited to reconnect, they’re excited to be back in person,” said John T. Kelley, vice president and acting show director for CES, in an interview with ZDNET in New York.
“We’re keeping the digital component, but the in-person component is back bigger this year,” said Kinsey Fabrizio, senior vice president of membership and CES sales, in the same meeting. For example, the total show floor is 70% bigger this time than last.
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Exhibitors that couldn’t make the last show are back for 2023, said Fabrizio, with over 3,100 exhibitors. He said about 1,000 of them are first-time exhibitors.
“They’re taking meeting rooms, in addition to their exhibit space,” said Fabrizio of CES’s exhibitors, “which is an indication that they want to do business.”
“We have a record number of submissions for our Innovations Awards Program, too,” said Kelley.
Key themes and tech to watch
EVs and autonomous vehicles
Among CES 2023’s key themes are automobiles and vehicle mobility technology, said Fabrizio.
Those categories have been moved to the recently built West Hall (situated across Paradise Road from the existing Las Vegas Convention Center) — which, in January, had CES as its first tenants. Space is sold out in West Hall, said Fabrizio.
CES also uses the existing Central and North Halls, while the South Hall has been razed as part of a multi-part renovation of the Center.
The Central Hall is connected to West Hall via the underground tunnel created by Elon Musk’s The Boring Company, ferrying passengers in Teslas. Tunnel stations extend past West Hall to the Resorts World hotel, across South Las Vegas Boulevard from the Wynn, next to the Circus, Circus.
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“You’ll find a lot of autonomous driving technology” in West Hall, and electric vehicles, said Fabrizio, including Light Year, makers of a solar-powered electric vehicle. John Deere and Caterpillar will also be in West Hall, the latter likely featuring an autonomous tractor.
Along with autos, nautical tech will have a big presence, including electric yachts, said Fabrizio, with brands such as Volvo, and all manner of marine technology.
Another major theme is digital health technologies, once again located in North Hall as it was last time. Areas within digital health include sleep technology, digital therapeutics, mental health, and new diagnostic technology.
“Over-the-counter hearing aids is a big thing we’re seeing,” said Fabrizio. New regulations passed this year by the FDA in the U.S. relaxed access to the devices, which means consumers can purchase hearing aids without a prescription. (Congress had passed a law pertaining to the loosening in 2017, and President Biden implemented an executive order this year; The CTA was instrumental in working with the FDA on the implementation.)
The over-the-counter approach means “people don’t have to go have that conversation with a doctor,” said Kelley, removing some of the stigma of self-consciousness or embarrassment that might have made individuals tentative about getting hearing aids in past.
“A lot of companies that have been at CES are now releasing products for this category,” said Fabrizio, “and actually some traditional hearing-aid companies that’ll be there showcasing their new lines of over-the-counter hearing aids as well.”
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Digital health will also include “the emergency department of the future,” an exhibit put together by CTA and The American College of Emergency Physicians.
According to Fabrizio, the Emergency Department of the Future will feature “an incorporation of telehealth as well as a lot of remote patient monitoring” in order to reduce the congestion of emergency rooms and “so that people can be triaged differently.”
“And then, just the different equipment in there, imaging analyzers, things to expedite diagnostics, treatment.”
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AI, robotics, and the metaverse
Sharing North Hall with digital health will be enterprise technology, including artificial intelligence, robotics, FinTech, and the Internet of Things.
The Venetian Hotel once again houses many grouped exhibits, in what is the old Sands Convention Center, including — for the second year in a row — the food tech exhibit, the smart home category, as well as the very broad category of accessory products.
Eureka Park, the tech startup cluster that’s been going on for many years now, will be in the Sands as well. A thousand or more startup companies will show off wares at Eureka Park this year, from over 20 countries. Ukraine Tech will have a pavilion as well.
The metaverse first became a focal point this past CES, noted Kelley, and this year, it’s going to be “pervasive throughout CES,” he said. “We actually have a dedicated area in the Central Hall for Web3 [companies]; you’ll see companies that are mainly hardware-focused there, like Magic Leap,” the augmented reality company that is focusing now on enterprise uses of the technology.
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Microsoft will also be in the Web3 area, and a dedicated studio in the hall will “have thought leaders from that community presenting on stage and discussing digital assets, blockchain technology, metaverse,” says Kelley.
“I think Web3 will be discussed prominently throughout the program” of CES, says Kelley, “primarily focused on metaverse and NFTS [non-fungible tokens].”
Web3 is showing up in more and more novel applications, said Kelley. For example, startup Olfactory Virtual Reality, or OVR, is “adding a sense of smell to the headsets, so now you can smell in the metaverse,” said Kelley. A real-world application, he said, would be emergency response training, such as smelling fire.
A recent partnership is between BMW and chip powerhouse Nvidia, to showcase the factory of the future, said Kelley. Such partnerships are “the foundational building blocks of what the future will look like” in the mash-up of metaverse and Web3, he said.
“It’s pretty cool to see how much it’s moved in a year beyond just the gamification of everything,” he said.
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“I think you’ll see on the show where companies will be showing you their physical products, and then also launching a metaverse extension,” said Fabrizio.
There is a “pretty small” dedicated area in the Aria Hotel for NFTs, said Kelley, to provide “an opportunity for companies to at least get some branding out there so they can be part of that conversation.”
The NFT, best known for stunts such as The Bored Ape Club, is sprouting new uses in the industry, said Kelley. For example, in the events business, it becomes an access key for attendees so something such as an after-party, for example.
“As the holder of this NFT, you can access the event, that’s starting to become popular,” said Kelley. The same NFT can become a “unique passport,” he said, for brands to have a kind of connection to their consumers different from email. And, of course, the NFT can be bought and sold in a marketplace.
This year’s headliners at the show feature keynotes by AMD CEO Lisa Su, BMW chairman Oliver Zipse, John Deere CEO John May, Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian, among others.
On the digital side of the show, as before, keynotes will be live-streamed, and exhibitors have digital booths where attendees who are only digital can click to see information about the exhibitor.
“There are two things we saw as a result of COVID that people really liked,” said Kelley. “One is the ability to watch content after the event, so we’ll have over 100 sessions you can watch after the event.”
“And then, it’s also the ability to make better connections with some of the exhibitors,” such as by searching for a vendor before the show and messaging them to set up a meeting” and the ability to have a video meeting on the CES digital platform.
Search features — such as searching exhibitors by a category (say, metaverse) — have been enhanced, said Kelley.
“We refined our tools knowing that our audience has changed a little bit because we do have more of a digital audience than where, pre-COVID, it was entirely live.”
The magic of a trade show
Digital may never completely capture the experience of the in-person trade show, however. Consider the enormous utility of face-to-face meetings. The CTA’s analysis shows that companies at the physical show have, on average, 29 meetings, which can mean “29 fewer flights” that companies have to take, said Kelley.
And “things get lost in Zoom world,” noted Kelley, including those chance meetings that can happen.
“You have these serendipitous encounters,” said Fabrizio, “where you’re in line waiting for a coffee and you bump into someone and you make a business connection.”
“That’s the magic of a trade show, those serendipitous moments,” said Kelley.
All the digital features are “a nice add-on,” said Fabrizio, “but I think, seeing a product hands on, and actually getting to touch and experience it, there’s nothing like it,”.
For media, CES begins earlier than the show floor: Jan. 3. On that day, CES 2023 features an afternoon research summary presentation at the Mandalay Bay hotel by the CTA’s data folks, followed by the pre-show exhibition called Unveiled, where journalists get to see several exhibitors with tables set up in a ballroom.
Then, on Jan. 4, an entire day is devoted to press conferences by exhibitors, where media scramble to take down details of new product announcements — after, typically, waiting in long lines to get into each briefing.
CES is not open to the public. It is for exhibitors, tech industry members, and press, and there are multiple prices for attendance (see the registration FAQ here).