CES 2006: Day One

Ah, CES, the annual massing and mingling of true geeks and gadget heads in Sin City; how I despise this show.

This bloated gizmo droolfest is now the largest industry trade event of any kind, anywhere. The 2006 edition has brought more than 150,000 attendees to Las Vegas in a throbbing swarm of backpack toting, Blackberry thumbing, Bluetooth-headset wearing humanity. More than 2,500 companies are strewn among the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Hilton Hotel, and the Sands Expo . Enormous tents have been erected in nearby parking lots. Big-dog companies like Microsoft, Sony, and Panasonic have taken up football fields of exhibit space. Smaller vendors are tucked into every nook and cranny—many are hocking their wares and ringing up sales right there on the exhibit floor. The show floors are littered with hundreds of iPod knockoffs and toy boxes brimming with iPod accessories. Vast constellations of cell phones and digital cameras glitter in the convention firmament, twinkling in endless semaphore: “thinner, lighter, smaller, brighter… thinner, lighter, smaller, brighter.”

And there’s no place to sit down.

So, why am I here again? Why do I ride this great squirming sandworm of a trade show year after year? I’m an enterprise IT guy, after all. I don’t write about big-screen TVs or MP3 players. And I don’t like Vegas.

I’m here because, when it comes to information technology, there really is no line between ''consumer'' and ''enterprise.'' There hasn’t been since the two Steves hammered the big blue box down to typewriter size and slapped it on our desktops. Take instant messaging: What started as a ''consumer'' technology targeted to teens is now as essential in the business world as email. I know attorneys who would sooner lose their telephones than their Blackberries. Another example: Talk to network managers and they’ll tell you that one of their biggest headaches involves the many untethered, employee-owned ''consumer'' devices that need access to the corporate database and punch security holes in their networks.

Then there's the increasing importance of the presentation layer, which has always been numero uno among ''consumer'' software developers, but has often been a secondary consideration among ''enterprise'' application builders. But the proliferation of increasingly sophisticated personal electronics has forced process-centric enterprise guys to a grudging respect for the power of the user experience. The evidence is piling up that if you make that experience familiar, easy, and colorful enough for your employees, they'll be much more likely to use the applications that make and-or save you money.

Thus I am here, yet again, in my best conference kicks (featuring the Timberland Smart Comfortwear System), with plenty of Gold Bond powder (with Triple Action Relief!), and a backpacker's portion of Twizzlers nuzzling my trusty ThinkPad, to traverse the trade-floor tundra.

Tally ho….

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About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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