I just returned from CES 2012 and have had time to digest my first trip to the industry's dog and pony show. In a word, it was a little overwhelming.
After a few days of reflection, though, my mind seems stuck on one thing -- specifically, which companies weren't in attendance (at least as exhibitors, anyway). Yes, Apple is a perennial no-show at CES. No surprise here. But what about Amazon, Facebook, and Google? These four companies are, in their own ways, each driving the current technology revolution. As I write in The Age of the Platform, today everyone's talking about the Gang of Four -- and for good reason. By everyone, I don't just mean attendees. I mean the other exhibitors as well. Consider a few examples.
TV manufacturers were bragging that their new units will ship with Facebook integration so you can "watch" TV with your friends in far away places. Ditto being able to view YouTube videos with just a click or two. Amazon's Kindle Fire is hardly the only tablet that lets you instantly easily purchase a movie, book, or album from its massive selection. Even cars will soon allow you to download apps for them. (Frequent question at the event: So, it's like iTunes, right?) And let's not forget the myriad iExhibitors that made iStuff: extensions, hardware, and other add-ons for Apple products. iShower and iGrill were my two personal favorites.
Perhaps there's something to be said for not being at CES. Why else would stalwart Microsoft announce that 2012 was the last year that it would maintain a physical presence?
And I'm hardly the only one noticing this trend. On Facebook, Walt Mossberg and some others exchanged thoughts over the elephants not in the room. Whey weren't the really important companies there?
Samsung, Microsoft, Qualcomm, and the others attend CES because they have to attend. They have to be noticed. They have to get the word out. The benefits of attending exceed their considerable costs, even when considered against the backdrop of a crowded, expansive venue with competitors hawking their wares -- often right beside them.
Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google could easily justify descending upon Las Vegas, but why bother? These companies have long benefitted from their ubiquity. They are always on people's minds and don't need to drop $100,000 or so on a tricked-out booth with reality stars to prove it. As attendees walked around, they were no doubt adding new friends on Facebook, tweeting, taking pictures on their iPhones, etc.
In other words, just because Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google weren't there doesn't mean that they weren't there.