CES loses the touch and feel

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It’s pretty dead along the strip in Las Vegas right now, though to be fair it’s also about 3 a.m. Pop in anytime via the great WorldCams site and take a peek. Internet video is about as close as any of us are going to get to Vegas this week, even though it’s CES®, the conference formerly known as the Consumer Electronics Show.

Last year, you may recall, Fortune hosted a conversation with Waymo CEO John Krafcik, who told Adam that the company’s fleet of self-driving Pacificas and other vehicles had reached 20 million miles. Since then, the company raised a massive $3 billion round of outside funding and opened its robotaxi service to the general public in Phoenix, though it has not expanded the taxi fleet to new cities yet.

This year, we’re staying home for a virtual Brainstorm talk about green technology with Schneider Electric chief innovation officer Emmanuel Lagarrigue, DBL Partners founder Nancy Pfund, and national security expert Amos Hochstein. You can still register to attend.

As for me, there will be no walking the aisles of the jam-packed Las Vegas Convention Center and other venues to see the latest and greatest tech. The effort to take miles and miles of real-world exhibitions and product displays and somehow squeeze them into a virtual conference will, most likely, lead to a lot less coverage overall, a focus on the biggest brand names, and an even stronger desire for returning to in-person conferences. Longtime tech columnist Ed Baig, who has attended many more times than I have, put it best in his essay about CES 2021:

Eyeballing a picture of a wall-sized 8K television I won’t be able to afford anyway, isn’t the same as marveling at the thing from a few feet away, perhaps (wink-wink) with a cocktail in hand. I’ll miss gazing at, touching, and feeling other products I might normally write about from the show floor, shoot video of, or decide to review later. Often this is the fun or wacky stuff that will never see the light of the day. Or something that by its very nature attracts a crowd, like the resurgence of sex toys at last year’s CES.

Still, we soldier on. Over the weekend, Lenovo released its new entry in the smart-glasses sweepstakes, dubbed the ThinkReality A3 glasses. The lack of the “hands on” areas where reporters get to take an initial “test drive” of new gadgets is probably the biggest loss of in-person CES to me. Lenovo says the A3 glasses let you see a couple of full Windows desktops projected in the air in front of you. Keeping virtual, projected desktops sharp and detailed but not shaky or janky seems like quite a feat. We’ll have to wait a little longer to find out whether they’ve nailed it this time.

So stay tuned for more coverage of CES as seen from my laptop screen.

Aaron Pressman
[email protected]

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