The largest trade show in the world is now the largest digital tech event in the world as well, as CES 2021 hosted thousands of businesses and attendees over the course of the five-day virtual experience.
With the global pandemic continuing to disrupt the business world, CES 2021 had little hope of hosting an in-person event. Although the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) was confident they could make it safe early on, the company made the decision to go all-digital in July, a full six months before the event.
Fortunately, it appears that, even without all the networking, CES 2021 was a success of epic proportion given the impressive participation numbers across the world.
CES 2021: Largest Digital Event Ever
In a press release from CTA, the company announced the massive number of participants at CES 2021 — more 80,000 digital attendees — and largest ever doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of the size of this digital tech event.
2,000 different companies — including 700 startups — announced products, services, and general innovations during the five-day event, with more than 100 total hours of programming for the many virtual attendees.
“The all-digital CES 2021 engaged the global tech community to experience innovation, make connections and conduct business,” said Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of CTA. “CES showed how the pandemic accelerated the arc of innovation and illustrated the resilience and innovative spirit of our industry.
The international community was notably involved at CES 2021 as well. According to CTA, attendees tuned in to watch events from 150 different countries. Additionally, 1,300 exhibitors showcased products from outside the US, including 530 international startups.
The Future of CES
To say CES was missed in Las Vegas — its perennial home base — would be an understatement. Casinos and venues all around the city expressed their support for the fully-online trade show with “We miss you” and “See you next year” plastered on marquees across the Strip. Fortunately, a digital-only event is certainly better than no event at all, particularly for a trade show that launches so many successful businesses.
“You can go from a physical to a digital event, although it is extremely difficult,” said Shapiro. “Our audience was very appreciative, and our industry was very thankful that we rose to the occasion.”
Still, given the success of CES 2021's digital experiment, it would be safe to assume that the world's biggest trade show could have an online element for the foreseeable future, even when the pandemic is a distant memory. And according to Shapiro, those assumptions are spot on.
“We will be hybrid in 2022.”
CES will certainly not be the only in-person event to add a substantial online element in the future. SXSW hosted similar virtual gatherings to announce movies and TV shows, and even tech companies have leaned into an all-digital announcement platform for new devices.
The reality is that accessibility is arguably one of the foundations of the tech industry, and providing these digital avenues towards inclusion is valuable no matter what the status of the global pandemic is. And now that the infrastructure and process is established, these monuments to the “new normal” aren't going anywhere.
What You Missed at CES 2021
While CES 2021 was certainly missing some of the goofy, outrageous products of previous years — looking at you, robot strippers — the festivities still proved to offer some extremely cool technology that we'll hopefully see in the near future.
As always, there was lots of great smartphone tech making a splash at CES 2021. Most notably were the rollable screen devices from LG and TCL, which are clearly looking to solve the crease problem posed by the Samsung Galaxy Fold. These phones are obviously still a ways off from releasing, but still, they brought with them the excitement of an in-person CES we know and love. Oh yeah, and Motorola announced a few new phones with some serious battery life.
Check out our CES 2021 Smartphone Guide for more information
TV and Home Entertainment Tech
From LG to Sony to TCL, there were plenty of awesome TVs and other entertainment tech on display at CES 2021. Affordable 4K was one of the biggest boons, with TCL really offering some competitive options for those looking to dip their toes in the crystal clear picture. Outside of that, Sony and LG showcased some interface functionality, including Google TV, Google Stadia, and WebOS.
Check out our CES 2021 TV Guide for more information
Laptops, Tablets, and Desktops
The all-digital nature of CES 2021 didn't stop a whole bunch of companies from announcing new laptops, tablets, and desktops, including ASUS, Razer, Microsoft, HP, Lenovo, and Acer. From Chromebooks to dual screen devices, the offerings found this year made a serious impact, particularly if you love a flexible hinge.
Check out our CES 2021 Laptop, Desktop, and Tablet Guide for more information