Techies Descend On Las Vegas For CES

Thousands of companies converge on the massive Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, hoping to snag some attention for their gadgets. This year, many of them are promoting new ways to watch TV or access information on the cloud. One notable change this year: It's Microsoft's swan song at CES. Audie Cornish talks to NPR's Steve Henn.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

I'm Audie Cornish. And it's time now for All Tech Considered.

Tens of thousands of techies and reporters are descending on Las Vegas this week. It's the annual Consumer Electronics Show, or CES. The show is the first opportunity of the year for companies to show off their newest gadgets. You can peruse everything from Internet-connected scales - if you really want to post your weight online, that is - to slender next-generation TVs.

NPR's Steve Henn is at the show in Vegas. Hello there, Steve.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: Hey.

CORNISH: So, the show is all about gadgets. What are you seeing so far?

HENN: Well, I just got in last night and the show floor hasn't officially opened yet. But already, you can see a few themes that are developing this year. There is a big battle brewing for control of your living room. Tech companies like Apple and Google are eager to change the way we all watch TV. They're hoping more of us will stream what we watch online. And some of the device manufacturers are helping them out.

So, Lenovo, a computer maker, is introducing its first television set. It's a next-generation TV that will use Google's Android operating system. And instead of an old-fashioned remote, this remote has voice-recognition and it also has webcams that have facial recognition.

CORNISH: Facial recognition, so basically, like, my TV will start watching me. Now that sounds horrifying.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: Why does it have facial recognition?

HENN: Well, Lenovo says this is all about parental controls. You know, so you can program your TV to watch your kids. But I think there's something else in the mix to all of this, too. You know, if your TV knows who's watching it, it's possible for a company like Microsoft or Google to start delivering really targeted television advertising; ads sort of like Web ads that are aimed directly at what that firm thinks you're interested in.

CORNISH: Steve, another sort of moment going on here at the CES is that Microsoft has announced it's the last time it's going to be taking part in the Consumer Electronics Show. Why is the company pulling out?

HENN: Well, executives say the timing of the show doesn't necessarily coincide with Microsoft's major product announcements. And there's another issue: This show is just so big, it's hard for any company - even one as big as Microsoft - to get its message out and really break through. You know, if you're not here it's hard to explain just how large the event is. There's something like 35 football fields of exhibition space.

So, companies are competing with thousands of rivals and they do crazy things. One tiny Vietnamese computer robotics manufacturer is hiring Justin Bieber to appear. So, some firms - most notably Apple - have decided this event just isn't for them.

So I think Microsoft is really stealing a page, maybe two pages, from Apple's marketing playbook. And I think in the coming year, you're going to see Microsoft trying to generate excitement around its own announcements, independent of big events like this.

CORNISH: Steve, in the end, what does it mean if Apple is gone and Microsoft is gone from the Consumer Electronics Show? What does it mean for this event?

HENN: Well, the organizers are trying to put the best face on it. But clearly, if you have too many large, important tech companies pull out of the event, that's a problem.

You know, personally, I've always thought that some of the most interesting exhibitors were the small ones. You have, you know, hundreds, if not thousands, of little businesses coming here each year to try and break out and capture people's attention. And as long as there's a critical mass of interesting products here, I think reporters and ultimately buyers - who are the two big audiences for the show - will continue to come.

CORNISH: Steve, thanks so much.

HENN: Sure thing.

CORNISH: NPR's Steve Henn at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

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