Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Business

The 'CES curse'? Gadget show has poor record

NEW YORK — The largest trade show in the Americas must be a great place to show off new products, right? Wrong. The International Consumer Electronics Show is quickly becoming a launch pad for products that fall flat.

When the annual conclave kicks off next week, organizers expect more than 140,000 people — roughly the population of Syracuse, N.Y. — to descend on Las Vegas. They will mill around 1.8 million square feet of booths and exhibits, equivalent to 31 football fields.

The 2,800 or so exhibitors are hoping to set the tone for the year by showing off tons of tablet computers, throngs of 3-D TVs and untold numbers of slim, light laptops called ultrabooks.

But a look back at the products heavily promoted at CES in recent years reveals few successes.

• In 2009, "netbooks" — tiny, cheap laptops — were a hot category at the show. They did have a good year, but interest was already waning when Apple obliterated the category with the launch of the iPad in 2010.

• In 2010, TV makers made a big push with 3-D sets, hoping to ride the popularity of 3-D movies such as Avatar. Sales turned out to be disappointing as buyers balked at wearing glasses and found little to watch in 3-D. The technology isn't going away, but 3-D looks to be just another feature among many of today's high-end TVs.

• In 2011, there were more than 100 brands of tablet computers on display, all trying to ride the coattails of the iPad. Many of them didn't even make it to the market; those that did couldn't make a dent in Apple's market share.

Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet did start to crack Apple's hegemony late in the year, but it wasn't shown at CES.

Verizon Wireless got attention at the 2011 show with the first consumer devices to use its ultrafast "4G LTE" data network. Although those did well over the year, the company upstaged itself by announcing, a week after the show, that it would start selling the iPhone.

A big part of the "curse" of the show is that the company that has been driving trends in the industry, Apple, doesn't show products there. It doesn't have a booth, and its executives don't give speeches. It hasn't had an official presence at all since the '90s, though some of its employees go.

It's not that Apple dislikes CES in particular. It just doesn't do trade shows. When it has something new to sell, it puts on its own press conference. That way, it can control everything.

Microsoft seems to be adopting the same strategy. It revealed last month that the 2012 show will be the last one that its CEO will kick off with a keynote speech. That ends a run of 15 straight years. It's also the last time Microsoft has a booth at the show.

So what potential flops will be hyped at the show this year?

• Windows 8 will be an important new product in 2012, but the late-year launch means PC and tablet makers hoping for a CES boost have to wait.

• As a stopgap, PC makers will show off ultrabooks. They're essentially Windows versions of the MacBook Air laptop, which uses chips instead of a spinning hard drive for storage.

• TV makers will be talking about "smart," Internet-connected sets, but they're not exactly new.

However, we'll see the first full-sized TVs that use organic light-emitting diodes in place of LCDs. LG Electronics has confirmed that it will be showing off a 55-inch set, to be sold late in the year. The price hasn't been disclosed, but is likely to be high.

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