What Pandemic? CES Opens with Celebration of Growth

Will tech customers really spend half-a-trillion dollars in 2022?
Grant Currin
A group of attendees pass under an arch as they enter CES. CES

CES 2022 has begun, in person and online. 

While most exhibits won’t open until Tuesday morning, Steve Koening, VP of Research for the Consumer Technology Association — the organization that owns and puts on CES — told a crowd of media what to expect from the trade show and from the sector as a whole. As the tech industry’s trade organization sees it, the story of 2022 is growth. 

In a talk that included only a few passing mentions of the nearly two-year-long pandemic that forced CES 2021 into a digital format and threatened to cancel this year’s in-person events, Koening delivered a presentation packed with (mostly) good news.

Cash is flowing into the tech sector

Koening said the tech market is being driven by a handful of trends that predate the pandemic, though “excess dollars and euros” in consumers’ pockets have pushed spending to new highs over the last couple of years. That extra cash has enabled consumers to “level up their tech” by buying more expensive products and signing up for more free and paid subscriptions than ever before. Koening pointed to market research that suggests these “pandemic pivots” have staying power, though it’s impossible to predict consumer behavior with a high degree of certainty.

There were no huge surprises in his predictions for CES itself. Technologies like 5G, AI, and the metaverse are enabling a lot of the innovations attendees can expect to see on display at the trade show. Transportation will be an especially important theme this year, with many anticipating the rapid adoption of electric vehicles to pick up steam in the very near future. Space tech — especially for commercial clients — will also be an area to watch, along with technology-oriented to environmental sustainability and health.

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The show's organizers really, really wanted CES to happen

It has been unclear for weeks whether an in-person CES would happen at all. As the Omicron variant pushed the number of Covid-19 cases higher than ever before, many major exhibitors — including Google, Intel, GM, Mercedes Benz, BMW, Microsoft, and chipmaker AMD — canceled plans to attend in person. Many major technology media outlets — including Wired, TechCrunch, The Verge, CNET, Engadget, and Gizmodo — also declined to send employees to the large indoor event.

Despite these cancellations, the Consumer Technology Association, the trade group that puts on the show, took a hard line against transitioning to a fully online event. The organization's president and CEO, Gary Shapiro, wrote in a Christmas Day editorial that "CES will and must go on," mostly for the benefit of smaller companies. 

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