CES 2023: Tips and tricks for the biggest in-person tech trade event
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I first attended the Consumer Electronics Show back in the 1990s when then-Microsoft CEO Bill Gates gave the opening keynote speeches every year. Las Vegas has changed a lot since then, but some of my advice about the show goes back to those good old days.
For instance, it’s always important to wear comfy shoes. I learned that lesson after some blisters during a CES years ago. What’s changed? Well, I’d recommend wearing a mask most of the time at CES 2023, which starts for the press on January 3 and then gets under way for real on January 5 and ends January 8.
Much of my advice is not rocket science, but I cooked this up with the knowledge that it will be a hybrid event — something forever changed by the pandemic that forced the show into digital form in 2021. The show took place in person in January 2022, but the Omicron wave of COVID-19 took its toll. Many people reported getting sick and only 45,000 went to the show, far below the 175,212 that showed up in 2019.
Since there are new people attending the show every year and many going back for the first time since 2020, I feel obligated to offer my tips and tricks. (But I take no responsibility for bad advice.) I also have new tips, like pointing you to the CES app, which came out just recently.
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CES 2023 is expected to draw 100,000 techies, down some from 175,212 in 2019, 171,268 in 2020 and way up from 45,000 in 2022, according to an educated guess from Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, the trade group that puts on the show. The whole event will seem a day shorter than usual, partly because New Years Day falls on a Sunday and many workers will be taking Monday off. That alone will account for fewer attendees across the entire event. But the event runs through Sunday the 8th.
CES 2020 had about 4,500 exhibitors across 2.9 million square feet of space. This year, CES 2023 will likely have close to 3,000 exhibitors across at least 2.1 million square feet of space.
Should you go?
Well, the show is big. Last year, there were 3,100 media attending CES 2022. And they wrote 177,000 stories. CES 2020 had an estimated economic impact of $291 million in Las Vegas. Investors have contributed more than $10 billion to date to startups at Eureka Park.
Those are some decent reasons to consider the show as a must-attend for some folks. On the other hand, everyone should consider the health risks of going to a big event.
I still view CES as a bellwether for the tech economy, as no other event spans the entire tech world like it does. Companies want to create a buzz at CES, which is designed to signal products coming in the next year. I find the show a useful way to stay up to speed on the latest technology. If you find the health risk acceptable, then it can still be a valuable way to stay in touch.
Apple doesn’t attend the show, but just about every other tech giant does. It’s where the tech industry will be next week, though it’s not so much of a game event these days. Sony, however, will be showing up and you can bet they’ll talk more about PlayStation VR 2.
And while some of that can make you optimistic, the specter of tech layoffs is hanging over the show. Shapiro hasn’t seen a fall-off in registration, but he acknowledges a “rebalancing in the tech community.”
“Tech has been very strong for many years. But there always is a business cycle. It seems like every 10 years — the last one was 2008-2009. In a way there was 2020. Before that you had 2000-2001, and 1990-91,” said Shapiro. “There are recessions. The tech industry is not immune to the impact of the economy overall. But in the long run, the tech industry, consumer technology, so many different flavors of solving human problems, has a great future.”
This year’s health procotols are different from CES 2022. Of course, the CTA will argue it’s safe. And it says it will “monitor COVID and other health developments across the globe and will follow health safety guidelines from the WHO and CDC, as well as applicable federal, state and local laws.”
Before you leave home, CES encourages you to get a flu shot, get up to date with your COVID vaccines and booster shots, and test regularly as the most effective way to detect COVID and isolate if you are infected.
CDC guidelines as of September 10, 2022, require international travelers to the U.S. to show proof of vaccination against COVID before boarding a flight to the U.S. CES suggests that you self-test before leaving and upon arriving in Las Vegas. You can find Las Vegas testing sites at NVCovidFighter using the zip code 89109.
CES will provide access to rapid antigen tests. If you feel ill onsite at a CES exhibit venue, the CTA will offer free testing at designated medical stations. It also will provide isolation recommendations from the CDC if you test positive. It will also provide masks. It recommends you wear a high-quality mask indoors if you are more comfortable and it asks that you “respect those around you that choose to do so.”
Since 2020, CES exhibits have improved ventilation systems and increased outside air flow. They will also have reduced surface touch points in high-traffic areas. There will also be more space for social distancing. Security screening entry points will have one-way traffic flow. It suggests you avoid shaking hands and use hand sanitizer, which will be available in the venues.
Getting your badge and getting into the show
You have to work in the tech industry to get into the show. It’s a place for professionals, not tourists, and registration is designed to screen the tourists out.
With 100,000 people at the show, you don’t want to get stuck in long lines. You can avoid the first big line by picking up your badge by showing your ID and show registration early. You can get your CES badge at the baggage claim areas of the airport and most of the venues.
There will also be lines getting into the venues. You will have to submit to a bag search at the entrance to all show venues. All bags are subject to search and metal wand screening. In addition, regular attendees can only carry two small bags, each smaller than 12”x17”x6” into show venues.
Attendees are encouraged to consider their bag type and use clear bags (mesh, plastic, vinyl, etc.) to expedite entry. Rolling bags of any size are prohibited including luggage, carry-ons, laptop and computer bags, and rolling luggage carts.
Media with an official media badge are permitted to hand-carry equipment onto show premises in excess of the two-bag restriction. This equipment is subject to search and tagged as approved for entry. If you’ve got a good light laptop, I suggest you bring it. And maybe bring a backup if you have one. But consider the tradeoffs of having backup stuff and a heavier bag that will kill your back.
If you do have heavier bags, you can check them at the Las Vegas Convention Center Central Plaza and West Hall exterior areas, the Venetian Expo Level 1 lobby, and the Venetian Ballroom foyer.
Peak times for CES crowds
The press events start late on January 3 and continue all day on January 4. Lisa Su, CEO of Advanced Micro Devices, will kick off the keynote speeches at 6:30 p.m. on January 4 at the Venetian Palazzo Balloom, followed by a talk at 8 p.m. at The Pearl Theater at The Palms by BMW chairman Oliver Zipse.
The expo will start in places like the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Sands Expo on January 5, when you can expect to see the crowds showing up.
John May, CEO of John Deere, will give a keynote on the morning of January 5 at 8:30 a.m. in the Venetian Palazzo Ballroom, and the CTA’s Shapiro will also give a kind of state of the union about tech during that time.
Other talks will take place at the Aria’s C Space section, where speakers like Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines, Jeremi Gorman, president of global advertising at Netflix, and Francine Li, global head of marketing at Riot Games, will speak.
These speakers are more diverse than in the past. And they reflect the fact that technology is moving well beyond tech companies and all major companies are adopting it. When tech fades into the woodworks, like into the giant John Deere combines harvesting wheat, it has reached a new stage. The internet-connected tractors are all about getting more food to people in the world.
I’m not sure what to expect on Saturday and Sunday (January 7-8) at the show. CES usually doesn’t last that long, but some people might be arriving on those days just to see the show without crowds.
As I mentioned, the press days will start earlier with some digital events, like Nvidia’s 8 a.m. online press event on January 3 and Acer’s 9 a.m. online event the same day.
At 4 p.m. on January 3, CTA vice president of research will kick off the first CES event at the Mandalay Bay in a press-only event, followed by CES Unveiled at 5 p.m., where scores of companies will be showing off their award-winning stuff for the first time at the show.
For the press, Tuesday January 4 is a kind of baptism by fire, thanks to press events starting at 8 a.m. with LG and ending with Sony’s 5 p.m. press event. The opening keynote follows, and then the press moves on to the Pepcom (press only) party at Caesar’s Palace. The rival Showstoppers press party takes place at the Bellagio this year on January 5.
This is the day when I need the laptop with the longest battery life. (Yes, that’s still an issue).
As noted, Wednesday is when the real crowds show up, and you’ll notice it in restaurants, transportation lines, convention halls, casino floors, and at the airport. Let’s hope the weather will be good, in contrast to the torrential rains we saw in 2018, when blackouts took out the main show floor.
If you’re leaving the convention center around 6 p.m., you can catch a bus to most of the major hotels. But that’s also the busiest traffic time. You’ll have to walk (perhaps a long way) to designated areas for Uber/Lyft ride-sharing pickup zones. And there’s the monorail to consider as well for some hotels.
Getting lost in the maze
The 2.1 million-plus square feet of exhibition space will open at 10 a.m. on Wednesday January 5.
If you’re really ambitious, you could be walking 30,000 steps a day, about 3 to 6 times as much as usual. For me, exhaustion sets in around 20,000 steps. If you can cut some unnecessary walking from your day, that would be wise to do.
You can start by getting to know the locations. The LVCC Central Hall is where a lot of the big companies are, such as Samsung, Sony, Canon, Sharp, Nikon, IBM, Panasonic, LG, Bosch, and many more.
You can walk across a connector from the Central Hall to the South Hall, where there are a mix of big booths, small booths, and meeting rooms (which are way in the back).
The South Hall itself is confusing, as it has two levels. South Halls 1 and 2 are on the ground level, with booth numbers ranging from 2000 to 22999 and 25000 to 27999 on the ground level. South Halls 3 and 4 (30000-32999, 35000-37999) are on the upper level, and both are easily reached via the South Hall connector.
What’s trending and what’s not
The metaverse is going to be a key theme, even though some people in the know were excited about it earlier and aren’t as excited about it now that we have a downturn. But I believe there is a wave of new technologies about to hit that will spread interest in the metaverse across all industries.
Will we see evidence of that at CES this year? I honestly don’t know how much of that tech will be ready. But CES is often about marketing hype, and the people who market stuff there know a catchy trend when they see one.
Some like Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg believe that VR will grow into something huge. But others feel like it will be a niche. Apple will likely enable augmented reality to take off on mobile. But that’s not the entirety of the metaverse. Gamers are going to be in expansion mode. Hollywood will promote the sci-fi vision. The industrial and ecommerce industries will be huge. Brands will go where the people are.
Altogether, that adds up to a considerable amount of force working in favor of the metaverse. A recession will slow these things down, but I don’t think it will kill the metaverse.
I’m going to moderate a panel at CES on Friday January 6 about how gaming will lead the metaverse. It will take place at 3 pm on Friday January 6 at LVCC North / N262 and feature speakers from Area15, Upland, Holoride and Tilt Five.
The show will have a dedicated space for things like gaming again, but it will also have new areas dedicated to Web3, blockchain and cryptocurrency. We’ll see a variety of immersive virtual experiences, like a project where carmaker Stellantis and Microsoft are teaming up on a showroom in the metaverse.
Sony is likely to show off its PSVR 2 product launching on February 22. Various publications have said that HTC will also show off a new headset that is a tool for gaming, entertainment, enterprise and productivity. L’Oreal will be there demoing augmented reality products. Nvidia will hopefully give us an update on the Omniverse tools for building the metaverse for engineers.
This year will feature new themes such as mobile tech focused on marine environments as well as a live demo session with the International Space Station.
The transportation sections will grow as the march toward autonomous vehicles continues. Shapiro said the show will have an “incredibly strong” health tech category.
Shapiro expects we’ll see a lot of food tech, like from a company called Suvie, which cooks food while you’re away and is ready when you get home.
Based on the pitches I’m getting, I think we’ll see a lot of tech related to artificial intelligence, health-focused wearables, energy-saving devices, custom 3D printing, the internet of things (IoT), sleep care, elder care, mental care, smart cars, robots, virtual reality (think Sony and HTC).
As far as humanitarian issues go, CES is teamed with the United Nations and its focus on fundamental human rights, like the right to clean air and water, the right to healthcare, security and mobility.
Your CES survival tips
Many of these tips are recycled from past years, but I’ve gone through and renewed them with my latest info. As I mentioned, it’s hard to get around at CES. You should keep appointments to a half hour, but note that it takes time to walk between venues. You may encounter delays because other people are behind schedule. And you may even have trouble finding people at large booths. So it’s good to pad your schedule to account for possible delays and isolate the really important appointments.
The CES badges now have photos on them, streamlining identification and making it harder for people to share badges.
On your crowded flights, try to travel light. For Southwest, I always check in ahead of boarding, setting an alarm for exactly 24 hours before my flight. Check your baggage if you don’t have to get anywhere quickly. Be prepared for long cab lines and rental car check-in lines. (Services like Uber and Lyft were very useful at CES, particularly as parking is not plentiful enough and the big casinos/hotels now charge $10 per visit at their self-parking garages). I don’t rent a car anymore.
I recommend sleep. If the parties are what you care about, there are often party lists that circulate. Here’s one that I’ve seen. Those parties often require unique invitations and RSVPs. On Thursday, Dolby Labs is throwing a concert with Imagine Dragons.
Remember to swap phone numbers with the people you are meeting so you can coordinate, particularly as someone is usually held up by the crowds. Incorporate driving and eating times into your calendar, or use a calendar that does that automatically for you.
Smartphone reception is better than it used to be, but it’s still probably prone to interference. Text message is usually a decent way to communicate with coworkers. We always seek out the Wi-Fi/5G havens in the press rooms or wherever we can find them.
But carry a MiFi or activate a personal hotspot if you can; even hotel internet connections are likely to be stressed to the limit during the show. If you’re responsible for uploading video, thank you for clogging the network for the rest of us. By CES 2023, I hopefully won’t have to complain about this, as 5G networks should theoretically enable faster connection speeds on cellular data.
If you collect a lot of swag, you can send it home via shipping services instead of carting it on the plane. You should print a map of the exhibit floor or rip one out of the show guide. You should also print your tickets, schedule, and RSVPs for events — or make them easily accessible on your phone. (If someone steals your primary bag, you should have backups in a second bag).
You need battery backup for your laptop or smartphone, hand sanitizer, a good camera, ibuprofen, and vitamins. I’ve got an HP Elitebook and a Dynabook laptop this year. Bring a backup for everything, even if you have to leave it in your hotel room this year.
I used to recommend taking business cards. But those can carry germs and who wants that now? Now you can swap your LinkedIn credentials with people via your smartphone. If you’re exhibiting, wear your company brand on your shirt. Try very hard to avoid losing your phone. I wear a jacket with zippered pockets so I can put my phone and wallet inside.
Make some time to walk the show floor. If the cab/rideshare lines have you frustrated, don’t think about walking to a nearby hotel. Chances are the cab line there is also bad, and the hotels are so huge that a mirage effect makes them look deceptively close. If you have a rental car, try not to get stuck in a traffic jam in a 10-story parking garage. And always mark down where you parked your car on your phone map or paper.
Uber and Lyft cars are really the way to travel now. But in past years I found that the pickup at the LVCC (near the Renaissance Hotel) was a traffic logjam. So it can be tough no matter what you do.
Schedule your appointments in locations that are near each other, and check exhibitor locations on a CES map. Arrive early for keynotes because the lines are long.
Drink lots of water. Get some sleep — you really don’t have to party every night. Don’t miss your flight on the way out. Pack up a bunch of snacks early on to avoid getting stuck in breakfast or lunch lines. Take a smartphone with a good camera because what happens in Vegas … gets shared on the internet.
As for the notion that you can experience the show in both digital and physical ways, Shapiro said, “We’ve learned that the digital experience complements the live experience in many ways. A lot of the most dedicated digital users of our platform were those that attended CES, who were very busy people, who couldn’t get to all the conferences they wanted to or connect with all the exhibitors. We’ve decided to extend the platform through the end of February, so people going to the show can continue their experience for more than double the time we had in 2022. We’ll also offer a remote option for those who choose not to go to CES.”
He added, “What we learned in 2021 and 2022, and even going around the world and talking to our constituencies and having live events in Amsterdam and Paris and New York and elsewhere, is that people want to go and see their customers, to find new customers, to discover new things that they wouldn’t be able to discover online. Serendipity is still a very important factor. The live experience, for many people, is the most important thing.”
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