As crazy as it sounds, I went this year's International CES in Las Vegas. It's crazy for me because I hate crowds. I like to go fast, and you can't go fast at CES -- the sea of humanity in your way is too great -- and I have a self-admitted patience problem that's constantly reinforced by others.
CES is still the largest trade show in the world. I'm guessing that I was shuffling to see the latest and greatest in consumer electronic advances with a quarter million other people, but in reality there was only a mere 140,000 people at CES this year. Thousands of people don't think it's crazy to attend CES, and for some it's the only trade show that they attend each year. CES is truly beloved by the techno and gadget geeks.
The Big Three: Microsoft, Apple, and Google Are Missing at CES 2013
I've only been to CES a handful of times, but I can remember meeting Bill Gates at CES when Microsoft launched Windows XP. I worked in Microsoft's Visual Studio booth when I've attended CES in the past. This year's CES was different because there was no Microsoft booth. See "CES 2013 Opens, This Time with No Microsoft," for more information. In fact, three big organizations were missing at this year's CES: Microsoft, Apple, and Google. What are we supposed to read into this? I'm not really sure.
Microsoft pulled out of CES last year after the company's decade-long commitment to holding the biggest booth in the entire show and delivering the opening keynote that's traditionally presented by Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer. I was told that when Microsoft pulled out last year that the company's herculean booth space was snapped up by other companies in a matter of minutes. Steve Ballmer he did sneak into QUALCOMM's keynote with a surprise appearance this year, however. There were plenty of Microsoft people attending this year as I ran into a few friends who told me that others Microsoft fold were also attending the conference. However, there was no official Microsoft booth that was staffed by hundreds of Microsoft folks as usual. I'm told that there was a small Microsoft booth at the Venetian, but it's hard enough navigating through the Las Vegas Convention Center with hundreds of thousands of people let alone traveling to the Venetian hotel conference center that was a mile away.
Google is an advertising company that manifests its products in software and web properties. I understand why CES might not be the best investment for the company's marketing dollars. But with Android so prevalent with its market share growing because of tablets, you would think that they would show a glimpse of their future at CES.
Apple is clearly a consumer electronics company, but the company has always chosen to beat to their own drum by typically not showing at any trade show except for their own. I understand that, too. Apple has built a strong brand, and the company wants to control that brand.
More Software Is Needed at CES
It's a shame to me that the big three organizations don't attend CES because I think software still makes hardware ultra-cool. I'm not saying that consumer hardware isn't cool by itself, and I'm not saying that there wasn't a bunch of cool software at CES. That was a lot of cool hardware and software at CES, see "20 Windows 8 Devices that Wowed the Crowds at CES." But without software CES leaves us with 2,500 different types of 42" HD TVs. The latest 4K and 8K screens are awesome; essentially eight times the resolution of HD. These TVs have incredible resolution and fidelity that's almost scary. However, moving that much data to a screen requires software. We won't reap the benefits of these screens for years because there's no software content systems and mechanisms in place to push that much data yet. Shoot, because there was so many people at CES in the Las Vegas Convention Center, no one could make a call from their smartphones; the cellular networks were completely saturated. Do you see the contradiction?
My Presentation on What the Future of UIs Will Look Like in 5 Years
The reason I went to CES this year was because the organizers asked me to speak at the event over six months ago. I was really flattered by the offer, and I'm pleased to say that the presentation went really well. But I went into a six month panic on what I should present. After 15 years of presenting in front of audiences, you would think that I wouldn't be worried. I've been presenting mostly to developer audiences for these 15 years. Sure, the older I get the more keynotes I get to present, which cater to all types of computer-savvy technologists. But, they don't cater to the consumer-techno elite.
The other difference for this year is that I was given a session title and an abstract as a basis to create my presentation material: "User Interface: What It Will Look Like in 5 Years." For most presentations, I submit session titles with an abstract, but this time CES decided what I should present instead.
I must have got my presentation right because the concepts of the natural user interface (NUI), which includes touch, voice, and gesture, really resonated with the audience in terms of the future of neural interfaces. Plus, there is nothing like compelling demos to captivate and engage an audience. I have never had so many attendees ask me for my presentation. If you're interested in seeing the presentation that I gave at CES, just send me a note, I'd be happy to send it along!