CES used to be the largest show for consumer electronics all around – if Barcelona has it going for all things mobile with MWC, Vegas certainly had it going for all things consumer oriented, including mobile. But, this year, there is all this talk about how CES has become irrelevant. Microsoft exited the show, ceding the keynote spot to Qualcomm. While there is some speculation whether Microsoft might have given up its role a year too early, it has mostly sparked a discussion about the relevance of the show itself.
So, if CES is indeed irrelevant, is there something that has taken its spot? Consumer electronics, as an industry, is clearly not irrelevant! If anything, with the advent of smart everything, consumer electronics is buzzing more than ever. So, exactly why are we seeing this major change in the attitude about CES?
The major shift that has been happening over the years is the inroads that software has made into the field of consumer electronics. A decade ago, it was mostly about cool hardware with some software capabilities. It was about WiFi, about plasma and LCD TVs, connected appliances, motion sensors and what not. Today, the role of software is predominant. Intelligent software now rules – while hardware is still not insignificant, without serious software, it is simply insufficient. This has caused a shift in the major players that are impacting consumer electronics. The Internet companies (aka Google, Facebook, etc.) are having a huge role in the present and future of these devices. It is not inconceivable that a connected refrigerator will have ‘share’ and ‘like’ buttons to share your diets with your buddies automatically!
The confluence of highly power efficient hardware and highly intelligent software is the composition the consumer electronics industry is looking for in this era. The hardware players are trying really hard to move up the software stack and add intelligence. They need to cease being behind the scenes and create consumer awareness. The software players are trying to push down to the low level APIs as much as possible. However, it is not clear that each side has figured out the strengths needed from the other side. The hardware players are still largely scrambling to have winning software strategy and talent and vice-versa. The front runners of the software world are trying to take a stab at devices (Facebook phone, anyone?).
The importance of software is clear to everyone – so much that Qualcomm tried extra hard at CES to create an image that it is more than hardware. An image that has been criticized quite a bit. Perhaps this will be the era of partnerships to find that perfect balance of hardware and software excellence. But, no matter what, both sides have to figure out how to respect the other side, understand how the markets and production cycles work on each side (more on this at a later time) and find a way to bring the best of both to life!