The recently concluded Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Las Vegas in the USA was Microsofts final. Much in the same way that Apple bowed out of MacWorld a few years ago with Frank Shaw confirming in a blog post that Microsoft: “…won’t have a keynote or booth after this year because our product news milestones generally don’t align with the show’s January timing.” Despite Apples comment that they reached millions of people in their Apple stores around the world and that made trade shows less important, many people have speculated that Apple found the January timeframe for product announcements a frustration they felt obligated to deal with. If that’s true it didn’t show as picking some of Apples product announcements at past MacWorlds, most announced products were launched within a month - the big exception being the iPhone in 2007:
2007: Apple TV Mk 1 February (1 month later); iPhone Ships in June (6 months later)
2008: MacBook Air late January (2 weeks later); Apple TV Mk 1 Hardware Update late January (2 weeks later); Time Capsule February (1 month later)
2009: 17" MacBook Pro late February (1 month later)
Microsofts keynotes at CES were much worse in terms of what they talked about and what/when they delivered. An interesting piece by Business Insider was a look back at their last 11 keynotes and what was announced and what never came to be.
No matter how you look at it, trade shows used to be the big way to rub shoulders with your distributors, potential distributors and in some cases end customers directly. It was the place for journalists to flock to, to garner as much tech news as they could about the latest and greatest in products from a diverse range of companies from all over the world.
Outside of a trade show, news aggregator sites amongst themselves monitor their own subset of companies, start-ups and blue-chip companies for the latest in news about their products. It is now very common for product announcements to be very low-key and yet still be far reaching, with keynotes usually made available on video or even streamed live in some cases, with tech bloggers live blogging some events to eager tech enthusiasts. As tech becomes more mainstream the need to be at a trade show becomes less and less important - particularly for the bigger players like Microsoft and Apple. To the big tech companies, trade shows are a big expense with little traceable payback. They disrupt development schedules and drain resources that could be used elsewhere while marketing work on a better keynote in a more controlled location at a time of their own choosing; not the trade show organisers choosing.
The smaller players (those that can’t gather such large audiences at a whim) need trade shows to make connections and further their business. It’s still expensive but there can be enough of a payback to make it worth their while. They don’t take as much floor space and can be more cost-effective for them than the larger companies.
It seems for the moment and near future even that some technology companies are simply saying, “I’m sorry but we’re too big for your trade show now, thanks anyway…” then packing their bags for good. It’s not so good as the trade show loses a draw card or two in the large company as it departs, but that leaves a big space on the floor open for the smaller companies that really need that air-time.