Why Apple (officially) skips CES | iLounge Backstage


Why Apple (officially) skips CES

This may seem like the most obvious Backstage entry ever, but it’s worth mentioning for those who have wondered why Apple skips CES - at least, why it doesn’t have any official presence on the show floors. Even after the huge video games industry walked away from CES a decade ago, this show has grown radically in size, and the sheer number of products and announcements here is now staggering. For even the most savvy attendee, it’s like walking through the government’s patent office on the day that 60% of the year’s new supposed inventions are being filed. There is just so much, and so many overlapping claims from different people, that it’s hard to know where to begin.

(Click on Read More for the details.)

There are two consequences to having such a huge show. First, even the most attentive consumers - read: gadget lovers - hear so many conflicting messages about new products and services, that they don’t know which to buy. Many of the announcements aren’t actually followed by releases for months. So CES becomes a collection of things for electronics geeks to keep watching and comparing over the next quarter- to half-year.

Second, members of the media here have to struggle to figure out what’s important. And that’s just too hard for many or most mainstream publications, which want to cover the event, but not spend five days digging for goodies. So rather than hitting the floor, researching what’s there, and filing a late report on what was actually good, mainstream journalists use keynote speeches as a proxy, and focus disproportionately on what’s said there. For instance, the big topic of discussion between editors for two major newspapers at the CES Press Room earlier today was getting seats at (and providing coverage of) the Microsoft keynote. What actually important 2006 products did Microsoft ultimately debut there? Not a lot. But that’s where the journalists were.

Officially, Apple just stays away. It lets Microsoft and Sony make speeches on their new music download services (which are promised (again) to be better than the last ones), HP announce support for Real’s download service, and five other companies announce or hype new download services no one will actually care about. Apple also lets Toshiba, Samsung, LG, Archos, and ten other companies announce competing, confusing new digital media player offerings at the same time, fighting for attention and relevance. The press releases come out, the products get shown, and they’re quickly forgotten. Yes, Apple employees show up at CES to track what’s going on. But one gets the sense that most of what happens here is almost irrelevant - a lot of money and time spent by thousands of companies that will ultimately attract only handfuls of customers.

Why not take part in CES? Apple is bold (and now powerful) enough to create its own spotlight, and then doesn’t have to share it. Better yet, after all the CES clatter has ended, the company has seen all of the cards that have been put on the table before it shows its own hand at Macworld. This gives the company an oratory advantage: foreknowledge. Last year, when Bill Gates’s CES keynote demos continually crashed or wouldn’t work properly, he (and Microsoft) came across looking ridiculous on stage. In a later sly reference to those crashes, Steve Jobs - himself dealing with an unexpected problem - simply flipped to a backup computer, noting that Apple had bothered to think about this before delivering the speech. Would he have been so prepared if Gates hadn’t so conspicuously and repeatedly dropped the ball days earlier?

This approach also helps the company control the delivery of its media message. Journalists and their camera crews don’t have to choose which press conference to cover, figure out what’s worthwhile, or try to create a compelling message. Apple knows mainstream journalists are equally important, and pressed for time. So it delivers almost all of the big announcements to them (and thus, the world) in a single keynote speech at the start of Macworld, and then makes key executives and representatives available for immediate follow-up. It’s efficient, and the resulting press coverage is incredibly focused as a result.

Combined with a favorable “home crowd” packed with fans, the result can be electric. If the company has announced something really compelling, the lines start forming literally as soon as people know they can buy whatever Apple’s announced. And months later, when you look at Amazon and other sales charts, Apple consumer electronic products have outsold ... well, everything shown at the Consumer Electronics Show. That really says something.

If following Apple and its products has taught me anything, it’s this: there’s tremendous value in simplicity and focus, most likely more than having the combined strengths of 100 new and different products packed into one device. Standing in the center of the CES maelstrom underscores this lesson a hundred-fold.

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Speaking as one who has worked in Phil Schiller’s organization, I’d say it’s rather simpler than you’re making it out to be.  CES is just *way* too close to MacWorld, and MacWorld is a major production that takes up nearly all of the attention of Phil’s whole department for at least three months before the show.

If CES was four months after MacWorld, Apple might very well be there in force, but as it is, no way.


Posted by John C. Randolph on January 5, 2006 at 10:09 AM (CST)


CES may be too close to Macworld, but if CES were a real priority for Apple, I bet they could get Macworld to move its dates.  I think the article is really well written and captures what Apple is all about.  They know how to roll out a product.  Granted, they have a pretty darn good product.  But style does count for something and when they announce something, they always do it in (there very own) style.

Posted by Brett Breeden on January 5, 2006 at 1:45 PM (CST)


I think Jeremy is absolutely right. CES is huge and getting bigger. It’s sprawled out across 5-6 venues with everyone from retailers to buyers to journalists to what doesn’t get much coverage - hundreds of tiny companies selling everything from fans wires to knockoff phones. AND you add in LAS VEGAS for a worldwide audience that does not get to bathe its vices all year round like most Americans get on a plane to do - it’s chaos, drunkiness , madness and a little bit of a trade show.

MacWorld is all Apple - all under their control and the message is not diluted since no mac vendor can top a Steve Jobs keynote. AT CES, anything is possible - if Bill Gates had announced they were buying Yahoo, no one would care about anything else.

Posted by jbelkin on January 5, 2006 at 4:08 PM (CST)


Great Article…and it comes at a time when I’m just starting a love afair with Apple products.  Being a diehard PC guy, I started out as an iPod Video fan and find myself quickly becoming an Apple fan instead.  Besides having great products, the more I read about the company, the more I like what I see.  I’ve already decided my next computer purchase will be an Apple in one form or another.  I’m actually excited about becoming a member of the Apple family.  iLounge has been instrumental in opening my eyes, with it’s great articles and excellent coverage.  You guys really are “all things iPod and more”  You site is in my top 3 most visited each day.  Keep up the good work.

Posted by Batman3n1 on January 5, 2006 at 4:39 PM (CST)


>>I bet they could get Macworld to move its dates<<

Easier said than done. Have you ever tried to schedule a massive convention in a major city? I have. Most of the time, the majority of the time slots and convention venues are already taken up for years in advance. What’s left is often a week/weekend nobody wants for various reasons.

Posted by Nick on January 5, 2006 at 6:16 PM (CST)


Just to add, at some point if Apple is moving towards being Apple versus being Apple Computer, moving MacWorld might be a possibility.

CES was considered unimportant and just a place for guys like fan wire makers, clock makers and other “gadget” makers to sell products to retailers. About 6 years as CE moved from geek toys to the mainstream, it started to change and then 3 years when the converge of PC/TV became real, CES took it to another level and has pretty much killed any reason for Comdex to exist.

At the rate it’s going, MacWorld might have to consider a move. Yes, SF is pretty busy and you’re right, there are probably not a lot of openings but for Apple, they would allow the move though keep in mind Apple has a set schedule of Paris, Tokyo, their DC, and other industry shows (like the music trade - NAMM) but it could be worked out - one advantage to SF’s climate and the fact most people like coming to SF anyway.

Posted by jbelkin on January 5, 2006 at 8:41 PM (CST)


Quite a good take on the two main reasons for Apple not to be at CES, although it has previously been associated with it. Why lose focus amongst the primarily MS-associated products - even Google admits it’s a Windows-world they cater for.

And two, it’s an expensive exercise which would split the resources of Apple.

Finally, the reference to Steve J. learning from Bill G.‘s foul-ups at at CES 2005. You do remember the BSOD demo with Gates and staff member plugging in a scanner into a Windows 95 box (was it CES or Comdex?) So this is nothing new. And do go read Mike Evangelist’s recent blog entry on how Steve J and Apple put together a Keynote. We’re talking military precision, with backup Macs to switch across just in case. This has been going on for years apparently.

Posted by Les Posen on January 6, 2006 at 11:09 PM (CST)

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