Is It Time for Apple to Come Back to CES?
As someone who recently made the argument that CES might be too big for its own good, this might seem like a ridiculous question to ask. But given the way the consumer technology industry operates, it’s absolutely a fair one to ask: Should Apple show face at CES?
Since 1992, Steve Jobs’ company has seemingly refused to have an official presence at CES, which is the largest gathering place for the consumer tech industry on an annual basis. They’re there as a proxy as brands show off their iProduct accessories. And sure, Apple holds their own wildly successful events throughout the year that generates as much attention or possibly even more so than CES, so it’s not like the company needs to be in Las Vegas every January.
But, still, that doesn’t address the real question. Should they be there?
In having discussions about that very topic in the office over the past few days I’ve seen my opinion on the matter ebb and flow. On the one hand, for the sake of show logistics, I’d really rather not have them there. If you’ve been to CES, you know how much of a nightmare it is to move around from one location to the next for those four days. Now, imagine dropping the world’s most valuable consumer tech company—one that generates massive amounts of press on its own—right in the middle of all of that. Apple could feasibly take an entire hall of the convention center if it wanted to, or at least a booth the size of [insert name of any large tech company in Central Hall]. Realistically, CES wouldn’t likely bump up their attendee cutoff number just because Apple decided to join the party, but you better believe more people are going to find a way to show up if Tim Cook’s in town.
Heck, on the other hand, maybe an Apple booth would be something like a massive bug light, attracting enough people to it that the rest of the show becomes easier to move through.
Seriously, though. Let’s dive into the why’s and why not’s of Apple at CES.
Why They Should Attend
Simply put, it’s the right thing to do if they want to show that they care about the wider consumer tech industry. It might not come across this way to those outside of the consumer tech space, but by not showing up at CES, it seems like Apple is turning its back on the rest of the industry, sticking its collective nose up in the air, insinuating that they’re too good for an event like CES.
That’s not my personal opinion, but it is what I’ve heard from people in the industry. They don’t understand why, when all of the biggest names gather in Las Vegas each year, the biggest name of them all refuses so show up. To them, it’s almost hurtful.
Sure, Apple participates in discussions around policy, they’ve made the major commitment to contributing jobs and money to the U.S. economy, and they have millions of consumers wrapped around their finger. But, as with every company in the history of this industry, at some point—like, maybe right now whilst battling Batterygate—they may need a little support from others in the space. Whenever that day comes, if they’ve had their backs turned for so long, will anyone be there to answer their call? Probably not.
True, Apple doesn’t need CES—nor vice versa. But it would be an incredible gesture on their part to participate for the greater good of the industry. Let the industry see your product up close at a trade show. Maybe even drop a few hints about something that might be coming down the line. Participate in keynotes or educational sessions. Do something that shows you can play nice with others. I mean it could even be something as simple as hosting an evening party for people. We’ve seen the like of Google, Amazon, and plenty of others expand their presence at the show in the past few years. So why not Apple?
Why They Shouldn’t Attend
Well, let me tell you.
The reason that Apple doesn’t attend CES—and why they never will, in my opinion—has more to do with what the company stands for and who their core audience is: the consumer. CES, at its core, is a show that allows for the press, industry analysts, and manufacturers to mingle, learn about new tech, and report back on some of the biggest trends in consumer tech. The consumer, as it were, is absent from any show floor in Las Vegas. You need to qualify as an industry participant in some way in order to gain entry into CES’s halls. Being a consumer is simply not enough. And with that being the case—with no consumers there to get face time with the company—Apple opts to pass on CES.
Beyond that, you have to take into consideration the shows that Apple puts on throughout the year on their own. Their Fall keynote and WWDC events generate plenty of buzz for the company and they don’t require manpower that’s redirected from their everyday job’s to sit at a booth for a week. Rather, at least twice a year, Apple opens its doors to the press, developers, and other invited guests, and the world can watch online as products are unveiled, software enhancements are detailed, and more.
And don’t discount Apple retail locations, which serve as trade show booths posted throughout the world where consumers can walk in, interact with Apple products, learn about them from Apple employees, and purchase them on site. Apple cares more about pushing its product in front of the consumer rather than a few press people and industry analysts in a stuffy convention center hall.
If you knew you could generate the same amount of buzz as one of the largest trade shows in North America without having to spend the time participating in said trade show, would you?
Additionally, Apple has companies in Las Vegas pushing their product one way or the other. Accessories for its products will always be a hot tech item/category. That being the case, those companies will always have the latest iPhones, iPads, Macs, and more in their booths to show how their products work to enhance the Apple experience. So even when they’re not there, they really are there.
All of that said, I’m still torn on the topic. I mean, I get why they’re not there, but of course, I’d love the opportunity to walk through the theoretical Apple booth at CES every year. That’s one time I’d put my hatred of large crowds aside, and I’d just deal with it. But who knows. Plenty of speculating has been done as to why they don’t show up, and there will be plenty more after mine here. It continues to be the elephant in the convention center each year, and it seems like we’ll never get the real story.