I attended the Consumer Electronics Show back in the 1990s when then-Microsoft CEO Bill Gates gave the opening keynote speeches every year. Las Vegas has changed a lot since then, but some of my advice about the show goes back that far.
Like the importance of wearing comfy shoes. I learned that lesson after some blisters during a CES years ago. Some of this is not rocket science. But there are new people attending the show every year, so I feel obligated to share my accumulated experience. (I take no responsibility for bad advice). I also have new tips, like pointing you to the CES app. (And here’s tips from Tim Bajarin, who has attended the show for 50 years).
CES 2020 is expected to draw 170,000 techies, down some from 175,212 last year as the group that puts on CES, the Consumer Technology Association, continues to pare back on non-professional attendees. CES 2020 will have about 4,500 exhibitors across 2.9 million square feet of space, about the same number of exhibitors and slightly more space than last year, according to my interview with Karen Chupka, executive vice president of the CTA. The show will have 1,200 startups in its Eureka Park section, up from 1,100 the year before.
You will face bag restrictions and entrance searches at all of the big venues, and you can bet those restrictions will be enforced now that the CTA announced Ivanka Trump, advisor to the White House and the daughter of U.S. President Donald Trump, will hold a fireside chat with CTA CEO Gary Shapiro (Tuesday at 2 p.m. Pacific).
Getting your badge and getting into the show
You can expect long lines, but you may be able to cut one of them short by picking up your CES badge at the airport. You CES badge will now have your photo, and you need a government-issued ID to pick it up.
Regular attendees can only carry two small laptop-sized bags into the show. Clear bags will get you through the line faster. Rolling bags of any size are prohibited — including luggage, carry-ons, rolling laptop and computer bags, and luggage carts.
Media professionals are granted an exception to this rule, as long as they submit to a search and have the bag tagged for approval. This allows me to carry my trademark back-saving backpack roller (which my coworkers have dubbed my secret weapon in years past) into the event. Thankfully, I’m taking an HP laptop and a Dynabook laptop that are considerably lighter than in years past.
The show has consistently had highly visible law enforcement officers and K9 (dog) units at the entrances to the venues and on the exhibit floor. This means you will run into unexpected delays when you’re going into venues. You’ll just have to travel lighter when walking the show floors. If you do have heavier bags, you can check them at the Las Vegas Convention Center Central Plaza, next to the main registration tent, the Sands Level 1 Lobby, and the Venetian Ballroom Foyer.
Peak times for CES crowds
The 53rd annual show opens on Sunday, January 5 for the thousands of press attendees. The press events continue all day on January 6. But Samsung will skip its press event this year, as Hyun-Suk Kim, CEO of the consumer electronics division at Samsung, will give a keynote speech on Monday evening. And Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang will also skip his traditional Sunday evening press event.
For the press, Monday is a kind of baptism by fire, thanks to press events starting at 8 a.m. with LG and ending with Sony’s 5 p.m. press event. The opening keynote follows, and then the press moves on to the Digital Experience (Pepcom) party at the Mirage. This is the day when I need the laptop with the longest battery life. VentureBeat writers Jeremy Horwitz and Kyle Wiggers will join me, and some of my colleagues will be comfortably watching livestreams from home.
But Tuesday and Wednesday are when the real crowds show up, and you’ll notice it in restaurants, transportation lines, convention halls, casino floors, and at the airport. Thankfully, the Las Vegas weather forecast predicts dry air and no rain during CES week. I remember in 2018 we had torrential rains and blackouts.
This is probably one of the busiest times of the show for attendees, and it’s when the taxis, ride-sharing cars, and others will be clogging the paths to the main venues, the Venetian Hotel/Sands Expo and the Las Vegas Convention Center.
If you’re leaving the convention center around 6 p.m., you can catch a bus to most of the major hotels. But that’s also the busiest traffic time.
Getting lost in the maze
The 2.9 million square feet of exhibition space will open at 10 a.m. Tuesday, January 7. The venues are divided into Tech East (Las Vegas Convention Center and its surroundings), Tech West (Sands/Venetian), and Tech South (Aria, Vdara, and Park MGM).
If you’re really ambitious, you could be walking 30,000 steps a day, about 3 to 6 times as much as usual. For me, exhaustion sets in around 20,000 steps. If you can cut some unnecessary walking from your day, that would be wise to do.
You can start by getting to know the locations. The LVCC Central Hall is where a lot of the big companies are, such as Samsung, Sony, Canon, Sharp, Nikon, IBM, Panasonic, LG, Bosch, Intel, and Delta.
You can walk across a connector from the Central Hall to the South Hall, where there are a mix of big booths, small booths, and meeting rooms (which are way in the back).
The South Hall itself is confusing, as it has two levels. South Halls 1 and 2 are on the ground level, with booth numbers ranging from 2000 to 22999 and 25000 to 27999 on the ground level. South Halls 3 and 4 (30000-32999, 35000-37999) are on the upper level, and both are easily reached via the South Hall connector.
If you want to see transportation tech, automobiles, and a flying car, check out the North Hall.
What’s trending and what’s not
The CTA’s Chupka told me that the health and wellness marketplace (a collection of related booths) will increase by 25% in exhibitors and 15% in square footage. The smart city marketplace is also up about 25% in exhibitors and 70% in square footage, for a total of 50,000 square feet.
The transportation sections will grow as the march toward autonomous vehicles continues. Pegasus will have a booth that shows what a flying car may look like. The augmented reality, virtual reality, and gaming marketplace will be up about 30% in exhibitors and 15% in square footage.
But some marketplaces have already hit their peak, as drones will be flat and 3D printing will be smaller.
Based on the pitches I’m getting, I think we’ll see a lot of tech related to artificial intelligence, 5G cellular networks, health-focused wearables, energy-saving devices, the internet of things (IoT), sleep care, elder care, mental care, smart cars, and robots. For the first time, sex tech vendors will be allowed on the show floor, with companies such as Lora DiCarlo and Lioness exhibiting.
I still view CES as a bellwether for the tech economy, as no other event spans the entire tech world like it does. Companies want to create a buzz at CES, which is designed to signal products coming in the next year. I find the show a useful way to stay up to speed on the latest technology.
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, despite the weakness of E3. If you’re curious, here’s my best of show thoughts from CES 2019.
Your CES survival tips
Many of these tips are recycled from past years, but I’ve gone through and renewed them with my latest info. As I 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 and isolate the really important appointments.
The CES badges now have photos on them, streamlining identification and making it harder for people to share badges.
On your crowded flights, try to travel light. For Southwest, I always check in ahead of boarding, setting an alarm for exactly 24 hours before my flight. Check your baggage if you don’t have to get anywhere quickly. Be prepared for long cab lines and rental car check-in lines. (Services like Uber and Lyft were very useful the past couple of years at CES, particularly as parking is not plentiful enough and the big casinos/hotels now charge $10 per visit at their self-parking garages). I no longer rent a car.
Remember to swap phone numbers with the people you are meeting so you can coordinate, particularly as someone is usually held up by the crowds. Incorporate driving 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. By CES 2021, I hopefully won’t have to complain about this, as 5G networks should theoretically enable faster connection speeds on cellular data. They’re barely present in 2020.
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. (If someone steals your primary bag, you should have backups in a second bag).
You need battery backup for your laptop or smartphone, hand sanitizer, a good camera, ibuprofen, and vitamins. I’m trying out an HP Elitebook and a Dynabook laptop this year. 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 avoid 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. And always mark down where you parked your car on your phone map or paper.
Uber and Lyft cars work well, especially at places where you can’t be confused with a bunch of other people hailing ride-sharing vehicles. But last year I found that the pickup at the LVCC (near the Renaissance Hotel) was a traffic logjam.
Schedule your appointments in locations that are near each other, and check exhibitor locations on this map. 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:
Sunday January 5
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 press sessions led by CTA analysts at 1 p.m. at the Mandalay Bay hotel. P&G will hold a press event at 2 p.m., and Byton will hold a press event at 3 p.m.
Then I will hit a press-only CES Unveiled reception (5 p.m. in Mandalay Bay), where scores of companies that have won innovation awards will show off their wares. 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.
Monday January 6
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. AMD will take Samsung’s place at 2 p.m. Intel will have an event at 4 p.m., 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 them.
As noted, Samsung will kick off the keynotes at 6:30 p.m. on Monday at the Palazzo ballroom of the Venetian Hotel, and Daimler chair Ola Källenius will speak at 8:30 p.m. at Park MGM’s Park Theater. I’ll close out my evening at the Pepcom Digital Experience party, a private event at the Mirage Hotel.
Don’t be surprised if people start querying you about what you’ve seen. 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 really mind because it causes me to sharpen my thinking about what I’ve witnessed during the day.
Chupka and Gary Shapiro, CEO of the CTA, will kick off the Tuesday keynote at 8:30 a.m. Pacific time in the Venetian’s Palazzo Ballroom. They will be followed by Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian, in a keynote talk at the same location.
At 2 p.m., Ivanka Trump will do her fireside chat with Shapiro in the Palazzo Ballroom in the Venetian. They will talk about how “the administration is advocating for employer-led strategies that invest in reskilling workers, create apprenticeships, and develop K-12 STEM education programs.”
At 4 p.m., MediaLink chair Michael E. Kassan, Unilever CEO Alan Jope, and Salesforce co-CEO Marc Benioff will host a panel at the Park Theater at the Park MGM, Level 1.
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.
As I mentioned before, 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 to avoid getting stuck in gigantic traffic jams out on the Las Vegas Strip and anywhere else near the main convention center. It might be worth waiting out the rush at a coffeehouse or hotel bar. Ride-sharing lines are also long at the designated pickup points.
Meg Whitman and Jeffrey Katzenberg will give a keynote speech about their entertainment startup, Quibi, at 9:30 a.m. (Park MGM, Level 1, Park Theater). U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao will also speak at 11:30 a.m. (LVCC, North Hall, N257). And NBCUniversal will host an entertainment panel at 4 p.m. (Park MGM, Level 1, Park Theater).
I will moderate a session on how brands are engaging with esports and gaming at 1 p.m. at Aria, Level 3, Ironwood Ballroom.
The show floor opens at 9 a.m. and runs until 6 p.m. It’s still pretty crowded on this day, particularly around departure time.
I’m walking the show floors on this day and doing some interviews. I’m also moderating a session at 1 p.m. at the Venetian on mixed reality at the Kids & Family Tech Summit event (Venetian Level 4 Lando room 4302). 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 VentureBeat crew will be gone by this point — 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. After that, it’s probably a good idea to take the weekend and perhaps a vacation day to recover.
That’s the whole show. As for me, I wish Bill Gates would return and give a keynote speech. I think he’s more interesting now that he is “retired.”