Brown on Business

January 4-10, 2021

By Wesley Brown

In a sign of these surreal times, the world’s most universally recognized technology show is going all-digital this year.

In the week before Christmas, leaders from Consumer Technology Association (CTA) announced that the trade group’s annual International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas will be held for the first time virtually. In October, CTA said it reach an agreement with Microsoft Corp. to provide solutions, support and the underlying cloud technologies that will enable the all-digital event platform for CES 2021, the world’s most influential technology event.

“CES 2021 will be making history, with our first all-digital show,” said CTA President and CEO Gary Shapiro. “This new experience will feature more than 1000 exhibitors from around the world, showcasing the latest trends and innovation in artificial intelligence, 5G, digital health, smart cities, vehicle tech and beyond. Technology will move us forward and CES 2021 will illustrate how innovation paves the way for a brighter tomorrow.”

Over the 53-year history of the CES trade show, the annual exhibition that is always held in January has given Silicon Valley executives and venture capital firms, tech gurus, computer nerds and innovation leaders a preview of the most innovative technology inventions from across the globe.

In the 2021 digital version, which be held Jan. 11-14, CES will bring together the entire global tech community to connect and collaborate this year on an unprecedented digital scale. Over the history of the CES trade show, some of the most innovative tech inventions have been unveiled annually during the annual tech party in Las Vegas.

“CES is a truly global event, unique in its scale and audience diversity,” said Karen Chupka, executive vice president of CES. “For an all-digital CES, we sought a platform that allows attendees from around the world to participate easily and securely.”

According to CTA officials, this year’s virtual attendees will have a front row seat to the latest technology breakthroughs, while top global brands and startups will launch the latest cutting-edge products. Thought leaders from some of the nation’s top tech firms, including Microsoft, AT&T, Google, Apple, Best Buy and Google, will also share new ideas they predict will shape the future. 

At the same time, Fortune 500 companies also participate in the annual trade show to provide details on how technology and innovation have impacted their businesses. In this year’s show, for example, Walmart President CEO Doug McMillion, General Motors Chairman CEO Mary Barra, Verizon Chairman and CEO Hans Vestberg, and Mastercard President and CEO-elect Michael Miebach are listed as feature speakers for this year’s event.

According to Wikipedia, the first CES was held in June 1967 in New York City. It was a spinoff from the Chicago Music Show, which, until then, had served as the main event for exhibiting consumer electronics. The event had 17,500 attenders and over 100 exhibitors; the kickoff speaker was Motorola chairman Bob Galvin.

Fast forward to 2016, the annual Las Vegas trade show drew more than 3,600 companies attended and had over 2.4 million square feet utilized for the event. That show was notable because of the extra security measures that included full bag searches and police officers in armored gear and explosives detection dogs. That show also first introduced wireless chargers for smartphones and digital devices, now common tech accessories sold online or at retail stores anywhere.

Last year, ahead of the COVID-19 pandemic, the big news at the annual trade show was Apple Inc.’s first attendance at CES since 1992, five years before CEO came back to the company and years before the iPhone was introduced in 2007. The focus of last year’s show was automotive technologies that previewed electric vehicles, infotainment, telematics, self-driving and autonomous capabilities and ride sharing. 

At that event, Mercedes showcased their Vision AVTR concept car of the future inspired by the movie Avatar. Hyundai and Uber also announced a virtual rideshare joint-initiative at CES 2020 to develop a 100% electrically powered flying taxi that will feature vertical takeoff and landing capabilities and a four-passenger capacity at 180 mph. 

According to many technology trade publications, Sony pulled the biggest surprise at CES 2020 with their electric vehicle concept incorporating Sony technologies for sensors and infotainment. Tech experts had predicted a range of the electric vehicles shown at CES 2020 would enter production by 2021, but most have been put on hold amid the pandemic.

To jumpstart this year’s event on the evening of Jan. 11, Vestberg will deliver the CES 2021 kickoff keynote address, discussing 5G as the framework of the 21st century and the accelerated tech of the future to move the global economy forward in areas such as telemedicine, tele-education and more.

O the next day, Jan. 12, a full lineup of panel discussions and speeches will focus on everything from AI and machine learning to the role of technology firms in fighting the COVID-10 pandemic. One discussion, led by Michelle Cortez, senior medical report at Bloomberg News, and Dr. David Rhew, chief medical officer at Microsoft, will lay out the latest updates on vaccine development and deployment, the current state and future of COVID-19 diagnostic testing, and the effective treatments being used successfully on patients.

On the last day of the event on Jan. 13, Walmart’s McMillon with participate in a virtual interview discussing how the turbulent nature of 2020 reinforced the Arkansas retail giant’s focus on creating meaningful value for all its constituents – from shareholders and suppliers to customers and employees. McMillon will also discuss how Walmart is prioritizing its shared values such as fighting for greater racial equity and pushing recent climate commitments while also running a strong business through its COVID-19 response, CES organizers said.

Of course, one of the biggest draws of the 2021 virtual trade show is finding out about amazing new innovations. Each year, CES’ annual Innovation Awards competition honors outstanding design and engineering in consumer technology across 28 product categories. An elite panel of industry expert judges, including members of the media, designers, engineers and more, review submissions based on innovation, engineering and functionality, aesthetic and design.

CES is also a key global launching pad for tech firms big and small to unveil new innovations and products into the global market. One of the more interesting technologies that will be featured this year is the alternative meat industry’s plan to reduce climate change through 3D printing. Going beyond the creation of ground meats and patties, several startups are now using 3D printing to create whole meat cuts with plant-based alternatives that taste and look like animal-based proteins, CES promotions note. 

Interestingly, Zoom Video Communications Inc., the technology firm that has seen arguably the biggest lift during the 2020 pandemic, did not participate in CES’ annual trade show in 2020. Still, West Coast tech firm has seen a stunning 735% spike in its stock from a price of $68.04 on the last day of 2019 to a high of $568.34 per share on Oct. 19, pushing virtual call giant’s market value to early $160 billion.

Today, the San Jose, Calif.-based technology firm that is now synonymous with online video meetings had a market cap of $107.3 billion, still eight times its size at the end of 2019. Although no one yet has predicted a similar technology to “zoom” out of this year’s virtual venue, we can certainly be sure that one or two, or several will emerge triumphantly on the 2021 technology stage. 


  • Wesley Brown
    Wesley Brown