Microsoft-less fair in Las Vegas looks to mobile

Attendees of the Consumer Electorics Show in Las Vegas crowded the opening event on Sunday.
Attendees of the Consumer Electorics Show in Las Vegas crowded the opening event on Sunday.JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images

Perhaps the biggest thing at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is the giant hole where Microsoft Corp. used to be.

For the first time in more than a decade, the massive software company is not participating in the huge technology trade fair. Microsoft’s boisterous chief executive, Steve Ballmer, won’t deliver the traditional show-opening keynote speech Monday night — the first time in 15 years that a Microsoft CEO will not give the speech.

Instead, this year’s CES will reflect a technology world in which Microsoft’s dominance in personal computer software seems increasingly irrelevant. These days, the chief drivers of innovation are mobile devices such as smartphones, tablet computers, and even automobiles. It explains why this year’s keynote will be given by Paul Jacobs, chief executive of Qualcomm Corp., a leading maker of the chips that drive the world’s wireless devices.


“That’s emblematic of the shift to mobility,” said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates Inc., a technology consulting firm in Wayland. “There is a changing of the guard.”

Then again, Microsoft isn’t the only major company to opt out.

Hewlett-Packard Co. and Dell Inc., two of the biggest makers of computers that run Microsoft’s Windows software, decided not to set up huge and costly display booths at the Las Vegas Convention Center. It may be partly due to the diminished fortunes of both companies, which have been hit hard by slumping sales of personal computers.

But the decision could also reflect the belief that CES — loud, crowded, and saturated with media hype — isn’t the best venue for rolling out new products or communicating with customers.

“It’s not a great place to make product announcements, because you get lost in all the noise,” said Sarah Rotman Epps, senior analyst for Forrester Research in Cambridge.


When Microsoft announced its decision to cut CES, spokesman Frank Shaw said the show’s early January time frame did not mesh well with Microsoft’s new-product releases, which often happen in the fall.

Not participating in CES hasn’t harmed Apple Inc., one of the world’s most successful tech companies. The company even abandoned the once-popular MacWorld trade shows in Boston and San Francisco, deciding in 2009 to hold private events for all new-product announcements.

But there will still be plenty of action at the Las Vegas show. The space vacated by Microsoft was snapped up by others. The Consumer Electronic Association, which sponsors the conference, said displays will cover 1.87 million square feet, a record. Officials expect attendance to meet last year’s level of 156,000.

Television manufacturers, undeterred by tepid demand for 3-D TV sets and “smart TVs” with Internet-connected software, are pushing onto the next big thing: ultra-high-definition sets with pictures far sharper than on today’s HDTVs.

LG Electronics, Samsung Corp., and other TV makers are expected to demonstrate their ultra-sharp sets, but don’t expect to see people rushing to buy them: These sets cost $17,000 and up. Besides, there’s not much to look at; hardly any of the content in today’s TV broadcasts and video recordings measures up to the new standard. There will also be plenty of new smartphones and tablets.

Taiwanese manufacturers Acer Inc. and Asustek Computer Inc. may use the show to unveil tablets priced as low as $99, and struggling smartphone maker Nokia Corp. might unveil a rumored tablet computer running Microsoft’s Windows 8 operating system.


Chinese technology companies are likely to put on a show. Huawei Technologies Co. will be on hand with its 6-inch phone-tablet hybrid, the Ascend Mate, as well as some smaller Android and Windows phones. ZTE Corp. will present its new Grand S, an Android with a 5-inch screen.

The most mobile devices of all, cars, will be well represented at CES, too. Eight major automakers will present new products, the most ever. Toyota Motor Corp. and Audi AG will demonstrate cars that can drive themselves, as carmakers try to keep up with the self-driving technology developed by the Internet search titan Google Inc. Self-driving cars are on the verge of mainstream acceptance; such vehicles can already be operated legally in Nevada, Florida, and California.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at bray@globe.com.