“Microsoft Bows Out Of CES 2013” read the headline. It was December 21, 2011, several short weeks before CES 2012 and Microsoft just dropped a bomb: Microsoft would not be returning to CES. Steve Ballmer’s 2012 CES keynote would be his last. It was clear the consumer electronics landscape was changing. As Greg Kumparak wrote for TC at the time, CES 2012 was the noisiest show in recent history. It was dying under its own weight. Something had to change.
And change it has. Next week’s CES 2013 is shaping up to be radically different. It’s the year of the gadget startup.
This year’s CES will not feature Microsoft, Nokia, Dell or HP. The pre-show press coverage has been very quiet. There hasn’t been a circle jerk around blurry images of upcoming flagship gadgets. The traditional gadget blogs have not talking about the show as much because it’s shaping up differently. It’s no longer about the massive players and this rejiggering really excites us at TechCrunch. CES 2013 might finally live up to the show’s potential: to be the greatest gathering of forward-thinking products and electronics.
It’s worth reminding ourselves that CES is a massive event. It consumes Las Vegas. The show officially takes place at the Las Vegas Convention Center, the neighboring Hilton, the Venetian, and the LVCC’s parking lot (where TC’s booth is located). However, press conferences are held at nearly every resort and hotel on the strip. Companies big and small rent houses, hotel suites and restaurants, effectively spreading the show down the whole strip. For journalists, it’s a logistical nightmare, which is why we started hosting meetings and conducting interviews at our own booth (info here and here).
For most of recent memory, CES was dominated by the big players: Microsoft, Intel, Sony, and HP. But there’s a shift happening. Samsung and Lenovo are now the big dogs at CES. Sony is stagnant and HP and Microsoft are not attending as they shift focus or something. But each year, no matter what these large companies do, CES kept growing. And growing. The CEA have yet to release official numbers, but after spending countless hours mapping TC’s coverage, it’s clear to me that show is bigger than ever. And why not? It’s never been easier to start a hardware company.
This last year saw the rise of countless gadget startups. Hardware is suddenly attractive again. Money is to be made thanks to the easier workflow made possible by crowd-funding and Chinese manufacturing. As former TechCrunch editor Erick Schonfeld recently noticed, hardware is the new software. CES 2013 will not be about the big tablet announcement or the latest hot gadget trend (CES 2009 was all about the netbooks). CES 2013 will be all about the connected future made possible by gadget startups.
The Pebble Watch lit up Kickstarter this summer and Apple has long been rumored to be working on its own smartwatch. Then there’s the Cookoo, MetaWatch, several by Casio, and Sony’s ambitious, but ultimately flawed SmartWatch.
Several smartwatches currently blur the lines between connected assistant and personal trainer. Items released in 2012 like Nike’s FuelBand and the Motorola MOTOACTV already address both fields. There is no question that more startups and established companies will launch competing models.
At TechCrunch 50 in 2008 FitBit launched its first model to a nearly empty field. Now, in the last part of 2012, the quantified self market is rather crowded, occupied by other startups and big companies like Nike and Motorola. But the market itself is still hungry for smarter, smaller, and better connected devices. There is plenty of room for more players as companies start to address more than just simple movement and weight.
SmartThings was another Kickstarter hit in 2012. Promising to “make your things smarter”, the startup is one the companies leading the charge for the Internet of things. The company developed a platform to connect household items to a cloud service. It’s an ambitious plan, but SmartThings is not alone in this connected future. Other companies, from big to small, released and teased similar items in 2012.
Belkin released the WeMo, an iOS solution for controlling power outlets and simple room monitoring. YC-alum Lockitron announced its second generation locking system and Lumawake took to Kickstarter to raise money for its connected iPhone 5 dock. The Internet of things is just starting to gain traction and CES 2013 will help propel it forward.
With so many hardware startups, CES 2013 should be more noisy than any other show. Startups have gumption. They need to get loud to be heard. The big boys of Samsung and Sony will still soak up a lot of attention but this year’s CES should have a different vibe. TechCrunch is very excited to be there in force. We’re sending more writers, editors and video production staff than ever before.
CES doesn’t need Microsoft in the same way Microsoft doesn’t need CES anymore. The same can be said for Samsung, Sony, and almost Panasonic. These companies are large enough to command an audience anytime, which is why Apple dropped out of the trade conference racket in 2008. But that doesn’t mean CES is dead. It’s just changing. And from TechCrunch’s perspective, it’s getting a hell of a lot more interesting.
The last several years, there really wasn’t a reason to attend CES. It was a mess of gadgets destined to fail from companies that should know better. Big companies were fighting a force not even present. MG was right. Apple “won” past CESes without even attending. That’s still the case this year although to a smaller effect. Gadget startups are smartly sidestepping the establishment by disrupting stale product segments — or introducing totally novel product segments altogether.