I wasn't going to write a COMDEX follow up this year because, frankly, it was a bit depressing. The overall size of the show was about 1/3 of what it was 3 or 4 years ago, and attendance was down to about 65,000. That's a far cry from the touted 200,000+ of years past. I've attended COMDEX for 20 years and I've always gone to see what was new and exciting.
To see what the new products were, that were going to change the industry. What small innovation would have the next big impact on business practices, the economy, and hardware or software development. What new companies were showing off their products to eager media and industry professionals.
That's why I used to go. This year I went because I needed some quiet time alone. OK, that was harsh. But I knew it might be the last fall COMDEX, and I was hoping against hope that I would see a reason why it would be back next year. I'm still looking.
As You Like it (A glass half full)
It wasn't all bad. Everything had its bright side. The crowds were smaller, so it was easier to get around the show floor. The show only covered part of the Convention center (no Sands Expo Center, no Hilton Exhibits) so my feet didn't hurt as much at the end of the day. Appointment times were easier to book. Most meetings were held off-site so I got to see the inside a lot of nice Las Vegas hotels. Events were less attended so I had more food to eat. Cabs were plentiful. Dinner reservations were a snap to make. And best of all, with less to see, I had a day to relax before I flew back to Philadelphia. Come to think of it , this was a GREAT show!
-'tis a Consumer devoutly to be wished
This was assuredly the year of the consumer. This year's COMDEX was not a Computer Dealer Exposition, as it was originally conceived, but instead a Consumer Technology exposition (will next years show be ConTex?). Yes it's been difficult for several years to conduct business in the midst of all the consumer traffic and booths selling items like a flea market. But this year almost all of the 'high profile' products were aimed at the consumer or SOHO market. Smart Displays, such as the AirPanel™ from Viewsonic and the prototype from BenQ (code named Pluto) are strictly a consumer oriented product. Sure, there will be the occasional executive that needs to be able to roll around the office in his high back chair and carry his monitor with him, but this is really a convenience item (and a very cool one I might add) for the home. The whole 802.11g issue is another example. With no set standard and the potential for very crowded bandwidth, this is a piece of technology which will end up primarily in the home and home office. Enterprises will more probably gravitate toward the higher frequency 802.11a technology.
The Tablet PC form factor is another illustration of the shift. It's a solution in search of a problem. Certainly a case can be made for students taking notes, but I'm still undecided about the medical applications. Considering how much attention has been drawn to the issue of doctor's handwriting and misunderstood orders and prescriptions, I'm not sold on the idea of adding one more surface for doctors to write on.
Digital cameras and imaging software abounded. Small was big. There were digital cameras the size of match boxes and credit cards. Pro-sumer level equipment and software, both video and still, flourished. But one of my favorites was one that was a real twist on the concept of 'consumer'. An Israeli Company, Given Imaging, has developed a camera that is the size of a capsule. You swallow it for purposes of internal medical examinations, it shoots 4 frames per second for 24 hours and nature takes care of disposal.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
The bulk of the conversation in the press and media center was not about products, but about COMDEX itself. Do you think there will be a show next year? What about the bankruptcy rumor? Does anyone care at this point??
The most popular whispers going around were:
- COMDEX is going to be moved to Houston next year.
- The show is being bought back by Sheldon Adelson (who sold it for $800+ million dollars in 1995) for $25 million.
- There won't be a COMDEX next year.
Only time will tell which of the above is true (or partly true), however, it is noteworthy to add that vendors were most surprised by something that was missing. Traditionally, the COMDEX folks come around to the booths to pre-book reservations for the next year's show. This year, they were a no-show (sorry, I just couldn't resist the pun). But seriously, does that mean no show for next year?
Personally, I feel that it's time for a change. While the industry still needs a fall convention to show off its wares, I think that, like the computer industry itself, the show needs to adapt. Technology and interest are moving away from the PC as the driving form factor and more towards intelligent devices. PC type capabilities are surfacing in the most mundane of objects but the real issue here is that our computing time and usage is shifting away from sitting in front of the PC and moving to utilization of a collection of digital devices. It also signals a shift away from the need for a PC based exposition to one that is more of an intelligent technology exhibition. The focus is moving to the personal. To the devices that we will choose as individuals from a host of possibilities as to what fits us best. The PC will still be an integral (and central) part of our selections, but it will be more of the basic appliance, the refrigerator if you will, with much of the focus going to the other devices we use in concert with it.
I hope there's a COMDEX next year. I'd miss the yearly excursion. But frankly, I'm not optimistic. With TechX NY being moved from June to September to make room for a summer CeBIT in New York, I think it will be more difficult for COMDEX (by whatever name) to re-establish itself as an industry mainstay. No one wants more shows. Heaven knows there are too many as it is. It may take a Sheldon Adelson to get the show off life support. But unless the 'Commandant of COMDEX' develops a more relevant approach, then the trend will continue to be smaller, more focused events in lieu of the extravaganza that was COMDEX.