I’ve been to Consumer Electronics Show more than 20 times in Las Vegas, and I’ve collected a few tips that will help the newcomers walk the miles of exhibits next week at tech’s biggest trade show in Las Vegas. Yes, it is possible to survive CES 2019 without Vegas nightmares and hangovers.
All told, CES 2019 is expected to draw 180,000 people, roughly the same as last year’s officially audited number of 182,198. Just like last year, you will face bag restrictions and entrance searches at all of the big venues.
What you can carry
Concerns about terrorism, especially in light of the 2017 Mandalay Bay shootings, have had an effect on what you can carry into the show. You can only carry two small laptop-size bags into the show. The media are granted an exception to this rule, so long as they submit to a search and have the bag tagged for approval. That allows me to carry my trademark back-saving backpack roller (which my coworkers have dubbed my secret weapon in years past) into the event.
Last year’s show had highly visible law enforcement officers and K9 (dog) units at the entrances to the venues and on the exhibit floor. That will continue this year, along with random security checks. The baggage rules and added law enforcement presence will likely slow things down a bit. You’ll just have to travel lighter.
How big it will be
The 52nd annual show opens on Sunday, January 6, for the 6,500 or so press attending the show. The press events continue on January 7. But the 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space will open at 10 a.m. Tuesday, January 8. VentureBeat writers Khari Johnson, Jeremy Horwitz, and Kyle Wiggers will join me, and some of my colleagues will be comfortably watching livestreams at home. The latter is a viable option these days.
Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which puts on the show, told me in an interview last month that the show will have more than 4,500 exhibitors across 2.8 million square feet of exhibit space, up from 4,000 exhibitors and 2.6 million square feet a year ago. The total number of startups in the Eureka Park section of the show is expected to top 1,100, compared to 900 last year.
This year, there are 25 subsections of the show that are dubbed marketplaces, for categories such as drones, robotics, and virtual reality. Based on the pitches I’m getting, I think we’ll see a lot of tech related to artificial intelligence, 5G cellular networks, health-related wearables, blockchain, energy-saving devices, the internet of things, foldable devices, sleep care, smart cars, 3D printers, robots, and drones.
I think of the show as a kind of bellwether for the tech economy, as no other event spans the entire tech world the way CES does. Companies want to create a buzz at CES, whose main purpose is to signal the products that are coming in the next year. I find the show useful to stay up to speed on the latest technology. And despite the government shutdown, we can expect to see Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, and Elaine Chao, head of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Apple doesn’t attend the show, but just about every other tech giant does. It’s where the tech industry will be next week, though it’s not so much of a game event these days. If you’re curious what I got out of last year’s show, here it is.
Your CES survival tips
Many of these tips are recycled from past years. As mentioned, it’s hard to get around at CES. You should keep appointments to a half hour, but note that it takes time to walk between venues. You may encounter delays because other people are behind schedule. And you may even have trouble finding people at large booths. So it’s good to pad your schedule to account for possible delays.
One of last year’s changes was that the CES badges had photos on them, making identification easier and making it harder for people to share badges. Like last year, you can only carry two bags, each smaller than 12 inches by 17 inches by 6 inches. You need to have a CES badge and a government photo ID. If you can, you should pick up your badge at the airport or one of these locations.
On your crowded flights, try to travel light. For Southwest, I always check in exactly 24 hours ahead of boarding. Check in your baggage if you don’t have to get anywhere fast. Be prepared for long cab lines or rental car check-in lines. (Services like Uber and Lyft were very useful last year at CES, particularly as parking is not plentiful enough and the big casinos/hotels now charge $10 per visit at their self-parking garages).
Bring your comfortable shoes, and try to get sleep. If the parties are what you care about, check out the Karennet party list., as well as some alternate lists here and here. Many of them are invite-only.
Remember to swap phone numbers with the people you are meeting with so you can coordinate, particularly as someone is usually held up by the crowds for appointments. Incorporate drive and eating times into your calendar, or use a calendar that does that automatically for you (I’m still looking for one).
Smartphone reception is better than it used to be, but it’s still probably prone to interference. Text message is usually a decent way to communicate with coworkers. We always seek out the Wi-Fi havens in the press rooms or wherever we can find them. But carry a MiFi or activate a personal hotspot if you can; even hotel Internet connections are likely to be stressed to the limit during the show. If you’re responsible for uploading video, thank you for clogging the network for the rest of us. Hopefully, by CES 2020, I won’t have to complain about this, as 5G networks should theoretically enable faster connection speeds on cellular data.
If you collect a lot of swag, you can send it home via shipping services instead of carting it on the plane. You should print a map of the exhibit floor or rip one out of the show guide. You should also print your tickets, schedule, and RSVPs for events — or make them easily accessible on your phone. You need battery backup for your laptop or smartphone, hand sanitizer, a good camera, ibuprofen, and vitamins. I’m trying out an HP Spectre notebook this year, but I’ll also bring along my two-year-old Dell laptop. Bring a backup for everything, even if you have to leave it in your hotel room this year.
Pack enough business cards. If you’re exhibiting, wear your company brand on your shirt. Try very hard to keep from losing your phone. I wear a jacket with zippered pockets so I can put my phone and wallet inside.
Make some time to walk the show floor. If the cab line has you frustrated, don’t think about walking to a nearby hotel. Chances are the cab line there is also bad, and the hotels are so huge that a mirage effect makes them look deceptively close. If you have a rental car, try not to get stuck in a traffic jam in a 10-story parking garage. Uber and Lyft cars work well, especially at places where you can’t be confused with a bunch of other people hailing rideshare vehicles.
Schedule your appointments in locations that are near each other. Arrive early for keynotes because the lines are long. Drink lots of water. Get some sleep — you really don’t have to party every night. Don’t miss your flight on the way out. Pack up a bunch of snacks early on to avoid getting stuck in breakfast or lunch lines. Take a good camera because what happens in Vegas … gets shared on the Internet.
What’s happening when
And here’s how we expect the news to unfold this week:
Lots of embargoed news will break Sunday through Thursday as tech companies try to catch some early buzz. The Consumer Technology Association analysts will open press-only sessions with sales stats and trend forecasts for 2019.
The event officially kicks off in the afternoon with a press-only CES Unveiled reception, where scores of companies that have won innovation awards will be first to show off. You’ll start seeing posts about cool stuff at that party on Sunday evening, particularly from all the tech journalists who are chained to tables at the party. I’ll be heading over with some of the early press. Jensen Huang, CEO of Nvidia, will hold a press event on Sunday at 8 p.m. at the MGM conference center. Earlier in the day, at 3 p.m., Byton will hold a press conference for its car of the future.
Media Day at CES has now morphed into a day and a half. It starts around 1 p.m. on Sunday and then runs from 8 a.m. to the early evening on Monday.
LG kicks off the Monday press events at 8 a.m. Samsung will have a press event at 2 p.m. Monday, while Intel will have one at 4 pm and Sony will start at 5 p.m. You should search for CES press event livestreams, particularly if you can’t get in.
Most of the press events are at the Mandalay Bay, although Sony has its event at the Las Vegas Convention Center. These events are closed to non-press attendees, but we’ll be writing posts about a lot of these events.
I.P. Park of LG will host the official CES opening keynote on Monday at 6:30 p.m. at the Park MGM’s Park Theater. (Yes, if you go to the Venetian, you’ll be in the wrong place). I’ll close out my evening at the Pepcom Digital Experience party, a private event at the Mirage Hotel. When I meet people at a CES party, the most common question I get is “What did you see today?” It’s a bit annoying as they’re usually fishing for a story or gadget that they should see and pass on to their friends, but I don’t mind it because it does cause me to sharpen my thinking about what I’ve witnessed during the day.
Shapiro of the CTA and Karen Chupka, executive vice president of CES, will kick off the Tuesday keynote on Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. Pacific time in the Venetian’s Palazzo Ballroom. They will be followed by Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, in a keynote talk at the same location. At 4 p.m., Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg will give a keynote about 5G connectivity.
Pai, chairman of the FTC, will talk at 2:30 p.m. at the LVCC N257, and Chao, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, will talk at 11 a.m. at LVCC N257.
At 10 a.m., the show floor formally opens at the big venues. The 11 locations are the Las Vegas Convention Center and World Trade Center, the Sands Expo, the Venetian, Aria, Park MGM, Vdara, The Palazzo Suites, Wynn Las Vegas, Encore at Wynn, the Westgate Las Vegas, and the Renaissance Las Vegas.
We’ll catch more product unveilings at the invite-only Showstoppers Party in the evening at the Wynn Hotel.
Some advice for walking the show floor: The Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) is cavernous. It stretches from the North Hall, where a lot of the car makers and speaker manufacturers gather, to the vast Central Hall and the multilevel South Hall. It’s a couple of miles from one end to the other, so try to space out your appointments. You should really take the time to map out where you’re going to walk and how long it will take to get there.
It’s not easy to get from the LVCC to the Sands Expo during the rush period, but the CTA provides shuttle buses for that purpose. Parking is really scarce, as they’ve gotten rid of one of the main parking lots.
When the exhibit floor closes at 6 p.m., there’s a mad rush for the taxi line, the shuttle buses to major hotels, the parking garages, and the monorail. Try not to get stuck in gigantic traffic jams out on the Las Vegas Strip and anywhere else near the main convention center; maybe wait out the rush at a coffeehouse or hotel bar.
If you’re still up for hearing talks, Lisa Su, CEO of Advanced Micro Devices, will speak from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Venetian’s Palazzo Ballroom. She will talk about making computing technologies for a variety of uses, such as gaming and virtual reality. Other speakers include Jo Ann Jenkins of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and various panels at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The show floor opens at 9 a.m.
I’m walking the show floors on this day. I highly recommend that you hit just one major venue in a day, like the Sands or the Las Vegas Convention Center, and avoid going off site at all costs.
If you hate crowds, this may be the day to show up. The VB crew will be gone by this point, and we’ll be home contemplating our picks for the top CES trends, the best products and services, and awesome images from the show. But the show floor will be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
If you’re smart, you’ll take some painkillers and a vacation day before you return to work.