How CES Became the Biggest Show in Tech

January 4, 2016, 2:20 PM UTC
Inside The 2015 Consumer Electronics Show
An attendee views the Tesla Motors Inc. Model X vehicle with Panasonic Corp. battery during the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015. This year's CES will be packed with a wide array of gadgets such as drones, connected cars, a range of smart home technology designed to make everyday life more convenient and quantum dot televisions, which promise better color and lower electricity use in giant screens. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Patrick T. Fallon — Bloomberg via Getty Images

The gaudy, eardrum-splitting, orgy of techno gadgets known as CES kicks off this week in Las Vegas. From humble beginnings as an expo for device makers to preview their year’s wares for the merchants who will peddle them to consumers, the Consumer Electronics Show has become the single most important annual gathering of technology-industry professionals.

Devices like TVs and car stereos are still in abundance. And trust me, once you’ve seen one curvy 10-foot-long television you’ve seen them all. More importantly, CES has become a must-attend nexus for everyone selling or buying technology hardware, software, or services as well as the policymakers whose legislation and regulations affect them.

Seeing as every company is a technology company now, CES is for everyone. Marketers, for example, the folks who once created, bought, and sold TV, radio, and print ads, now need to be digital experts because that is the new medium for advertising. As a result, they will be in Las Vegas in droves, and it’s also why Fortune is hosting a dinner panel Tuesday night with the top marketers from Hyatt (H), Target (TGT), and the NBA.

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For years a backwater section of the Las Vegas Convention Center has been auto row, booth after booth devoted to car electronics like tricked-out speakers and suboptimal navigation systems. Now, of course, automotive technology has captured mainstream attention, what with the likes of Google (GOOG), Tesla (TSLA), and Uber being automotive thought leaders. Ford CEO Mark Fields, whose company has been rumored to be pursuing an arrangement with Google—I incorrectly said last week Ford (F) had announced a deal—will speak at the same Fortune dinner.

Much of what’s new at this year’s CES is what was new last year too: Drones, virtual reality, self-driving cars, wearables, big data, etc. (Shelly Palmer writes up some of the predictable stuff here, and the BBC has a far more in-depth CES preview here.) I’ll come back tomorrow with some specific suggestions on what to watch, and on Wednesday I’ll report on our dinner. On Thursday, I’ll offer some high-level observations on what I learned.

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