As CES 2021 wraps up, organizers at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) have released some interesting information about this first-time virtual version of the event. I think the results of their efforts will have lasting effects on how many of us do business.
According to the CTA, CES 2021 featured nearly 2,000 new product launches from companies large and small, including almost 700 startups from 37 countries. More than 530 of those startups were from outside the US, including first-time startups at CES from Nigeria and Russia. The event also included some 100 hours of conference programming. All of this makes CES 2021 not only the first virtual CES but perhaps the largest digital tech event in the world, at least so far.
To be clear, much of CES, as always, was focused on entertainment, gaming, and other areas you might consider purely consumer-focused. And frankly, as is true with many online activities today, the user experience was highly variable and occasionally frustratingly unfriendly. But none of that takes away from the impact of the overall event.
If there were any lingering doubts about the effect of the pandemic on business events and travel, I think CES 2021 will go down in history as a big step toward putting those doubts to rest. CTA has already declared that CES 2022 will be both virtual and physical. The physical part will be centered in Las Vegas, perhaps the only place in America with the infrastructure and experience to handle more than 200,000 visitors and exhibitors at one time.
But it seems more than likely that fewer people and companies will make the trip than have done so for past editions of CES. Things have changed considerably after a year or more of almost no business travel and way too many online meetings. Many, especially those involved in sales, are likely to take to the skies and roads again as soon as possible. However, many other business decision makers are equally likely to take a long, hard look at the costs and challenges of physical travel. And many of those people are likely to end up doing less physical – perhaps a lot less – than they did before the pandemic.
Robust, secure communications options, both fixed and mobile, are more pervasive and affordable now. Thanks in part to work from home mandates and initiatives, audio and video devices, for individuals and for conference rooms, offer improved sound and image quality. Hardware and software have gotten easier to use, and users have gained more experience and confidence. And while security remains a challenge, awareness is increasing and effective solutions are expanding. All of these developments will continue indefinitely, resulting in even more and better future options for immersive, engaging virtual meetings and interactions.
Meanwhile, even during the pandemic, traditional business travel has improved little, if at all. Money-losing airlines have done everything possible to cut costs and generate more revenue, from eliminating routes and reducing frequent-flier benefits to scrapping seatback screens. Wi-Fi in the air is getting better, but can still be intermittent and expensive. And once pandemic-related restrictions begin to ease, airport security and on-board comfort will regain their roles as popular subjects of business traveler complaints.
Whatever your business, if travel logistics and costs have mattered to you and your colleagues, now is the time to begin considering virtual, digital alternatives to planes, trains, and automobiles. After all, if it can work for CES…