Interview part two: CEA chief Gary Shapiro says CES will be stellar, even without Microsoft, in years to come

The Consumer Electronics Show is in good shape for years to come, even though Microsoft is pulling out of the top keynote slot for the 2013 show, according to show chief Gary Shapiro.

Shapiro, president and chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association, which puts on the tech extravagana show in Las Vegas, said in an interview with VentureBeat that he was surprised that Microsoft’s decision to drop out of CES starting in 2013 turned into such a huge story. (See his remarks on anti-piracy legislation SOPA in part one of our interview).

He also said he expects that Microsoft will return in the future and it will, in the long run, probably return to the keynote speech slot at some point. He said Microsoft will bring hundreds of people to the show next year, but it only has a couple of days to retain its booth space on the show floor and he believes that will lapse as the company figures out what it wants to do in the future. So in 2013, there won’t even be a Microsoft booth at the show, in all likelihood.

“The impact of Microsoft is about several hundred people,” he said.

But CES could draw more than 150,000 attendees this year, about the same as last year, Shapiro said. The show has 2,700 exhibitors with 1.8 million square feet of exhibit space in the huge Las Vegas Convention Center.

“The show is doing phenomenally well,” Shapiro said. “We’re at or near our record in attendance and footprint. We have been approached by all sorts of companies that want to do the opening keynote. We will decide in time.”

As far as trends go, Shapiro said this year’s show will demonstrate that the car is becoming your consumer electronics “place away from home,” with all sorts of entertainment, wireless technology and other applications that go beyond navigation. He said that different sectors have taken off, such as healthcare electronics, gear for seniors, and gadgets for education.

Last year’s show had lots of vendors showing off netbooks, the stripped-down computers that focused only on web access. This year, they’ve been replaced by tablets at the low end and Ultrabooks, the instant-on laptops that are as thin as the MacBook Air, on the high end.

“There is definitely substitution going on in the computing space,” he said.

Some pundits have predicted the show will lose its importance, but Shapiro said such comments “baffle me.” Microsoft said that the cycle of its product releases was out of sync with the show, which uses the old model where technology companies announced their products in January and retailers signed them up for sales debuts in the fall. Now, the cycle is much more irregular and faster than that.

“There is no questions that the speed of the introduction of electronics has changed,” Shapiro said. “But a show forces companies to meet a deadline. We give people a reason to get things done. The show is also a five-senses experience, where you can see and hear everything. And face to face meetings still work the best. These are reasons why more than 150,000 people still come to the show.

This year, Shapiro said, major companies on the show floor include Intel, Motorola, LG, Samsung, Audi and many others. Roughly 7,000 people are coming from Hollywood, and so are six of the 10 largest auto companies, he said. There are lots of attendees from Google, Twitter, and other cool internet companies, he said.

Apple isn’t attending, but there are 300 companies with Apple accessories showing things on the floor. The show has a section just for startups.

As for cool tech, Shapiro pointed to new TVs with 4K resolution, a step up from today’s highest-resolution 1080p high-definition TVs. He also said he was excited about 4G wireless products, gesture recognition, haptics, and voice recognition.

Shapiro said that, despite a softer economy in the U.S., consumers came out in droves to buy consumer electronics gear in the fourth quarter, and he said, “We are projecting strong growth for 2012. The love affair that American consumers have with electronics is strong and growing.”In his own keynote speech Monday morning, Shapiro said that he will talk about ten trends for how technology is changing the world, including making cars much safer.

“The world is our oyster and we are toddlers,” he said. “So much is happening.”

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