So I was standing at my demo booth at COMDEX in Las Vegas, circa 1996… demoing the CompuServe client for IBM’s consumer operating system OS2 Warp, when along comes this guy, all important-like. The leading edge of his backward-walking entourage parts and he bumps into me. Full on thump as he walks into my side. Then I turn to look and I am face to face with Bill Gates. BILL GATES! He was on his way to the stage at the end of the hall, and rolled up in his hand was a piece of Microsoft history, soon to be shared with the world. He had his speech notes for the announcement that shook the foundation of the computing world: Microsoft was going to embrace the Internet.
Sure it was COMDEX and not CES, but this was the kind of centerpiece announcement that would happen at these large tech shows in the Conference Mecca of Vegas.
But it seems the hype of the giant Apple-sque product launches are gone. Most of the consumer companies who have historically made big announcements have either broken off to do their own launch events or they have faded.
It’s safe to say, there are not going to be any huge product announcements this year – or any year – from CES. I know that’s a bold statement, but it’s more true than not. I could try and explain my theory on why this is the case, but let’s just say, for product managers, engineers and nearly all involved that this is a good thing.
So if that’s the truth, why am I going? What’s so valuable about being there that I am willing to sacrifice precious time and budget to go?
Here’s why: the frontier of innovation has become so obscured with the noise of a million startups, global product creation and bullshit marketing that it’s nearly impossible to find the edge… the True Frontier of innovation.
There used to be simpler days, when the cost of innovation was so high that only a handful of companies that competed in any given market could afford to play… technologies were so new that true innovations like online shopping and instant messaging were popping out with regularity. Those were the days that tech geeks waited googly-eyed at their computer several times a year to learn about the next thing that would change their lives.
Those days are gone.
Now the server-to-Internet-to-consumer Stack of software and hardware are so well defined that it’s both inexpensive to create “new” things and nearly impossible to come out with anything novel. Add to that the fact that there are exponentially more entrepreneurs, developers and assorted people who have flooded into the industry and it’s not hard to understand that opportunities are increasingly competed out. Products that are truly breakthrough are few and far between.
But how can that be? Smart People say we are just beginning to see the impacts of technology on our lives. Right?
That is exactly my point. Technology WILL continue to transform our lives… our education, entertainment, shopping, social lives… even our politics have massive advancements ahead. But it’s become increasingly hard to really know where the frontier is. There is too much noise coming from the tech industry as a whole to know what is really new.
Except during CES week.
This is the one time all year when the entertainment, Internet, computer hardware and software people all get together from around the world and sing the same song. It’s like one big “I’d like to teach the world to sing” Coca Cola commercial.
In Las Vegas, this week, all of the companies who have something to share but would otherwise go unnoticed will be holding their candle and singing their bit in the ten-thousand-part harmony that is CES.
And me? I get to go see it, coming away with a fleeting glimpse of what the state of the art is in all of the minutia and detail… with a renewed sense of this great industry I am lucky enough to have grow up in.
And I’ll have another fleeting view of the Frontier of Innovation.