Why CES Matters More Than Ever: Computing Diffusion Makes New Bedfellows

Today, more than 3,000 vendors and somewhere in the ballpark of 140,000 attendees descend on Las Vegas to attend CES 2013. Continuing the trend of the past several years, this year traditional consumer electronics (CE) manufacturers are noticeably absent or scaled back in their presence. Microsoft has ditched its keynote and its million-dollar booth, preferring to hold low-key meetings in a hotel far from the convention center. HP, Dell, RIM, and other tech titans of the past are similarly absent from the show floor. But rather than see this withdrawal as a sign that CES is on the decline, I see it as a sign that CES matters more than ever — to everyone except the CE giants of the past.

Computing as a behavior is diffusing and diversifying beyond conventional computers. Computing has become a part of everything we do, from sleep to exercise to driving. That’s why executives from companies like Ford Motor, L’Oreal, and The Associated Press are flocking to CES. In the past, CES was primarily an industry event for companies that made, bought, or sold tech products. Now, every executive in every industry sees consumer technology as core to their future success — even executives focused on the enterprise. In a recent conversation with Intel CIO Kim Stevenson, she noted that she’s attending CES for the first time in years, because she views keeping up with consumer trends as a key success factor for her job as CIO serving 100,000 Intel employees.

This year, I’ll be watching with particular interest how companies are innovating for a paradigm we call "smart body, smart world," where sensor-laden devices give us access to information about our physical bodies and our physical environments, ultimately enabling us to make more-informed decisions and enhancing our ability for self-expression. I’m meeting with companies like ARM, MC10, and Valencell that license enabling technology and IP as well as companies like Bodymedia, Fitlinxx, and Basis that are using that enabling technology to make sensor-laden wearable devices. Today, those wearables are focused mostly on health and fitness use cases; the tipping point will be when they incorporate other use cases as well. These new computing form factors, like the ones before them, will permeate every aspect of our lives, from relationships to memory capture to productivity to shopping.

And that’s why, even as the tech titans bow out of CES, CES matters more than ever to every other marketer, product strategist, and C-level executive in every industry. Because computing continues to evolve, diffuse, and disrupt — with or without Microsoft on the mainstage.