CES 2022: Can hope defy Omicron?

The Consumer Technology Association is determined to host an in-person CES 2022, but will its plans run smack into reality? And will Apple be forced to take WWDC online for a third time?

Apple, CES, Samsung, T-Mobile, WWDC, trade show, computer industry
Magdalena Petrova

It may be ironic that CES 2022 is likely to be a banner year for a variety of devices, including smarthome hardware, given so many people won’t be attending the event in person.

Can hope defy reality?

Organizers at the Consumer Technology Association still insist CES 2022 will be an in-person event when it takes place Jan. 5. They really want the event to go ahead and are putting strict health protections in place, including insistence on vaccinations.

These efforts may not be sufficient. We’ve seen a wave of big names pull out of the show: Twitter, Amazon, Nvidia, and even lead show sponsor, T-Mobile have announced they won't attend, citing the threat of Omicron.

Some big names remain committed: Asus, Samsung, AMD, Qualcomm, and OnePlus remain resolute, while Google has set up its stand, according to AdWeek.

CES show champions remain hopeful. “As of now, this highly popular tech event is poised to deliver another stellar show that helps our industry grow and advance,” wrote Creative Strategies analyst Tim Bajarin, who still hopes to attend the event. “Fingers crossed that the show will be safe to attend and be successful for all involved.”

These commitments may be tested across the holiday season.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns: "Current vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant. However, breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated are likely to occur."

The significance is that the current situation may be very different by Jan. 5 and this uncertainty is reflected by the wave of firms exiting the event.

What to expect

The tragedy is that the event promises to be quite interesting. CES 2022 pre-event announcements so far hint at interesting news across some big tech industry areas: virtual reality, smart vehicle tech, health tech, and smart home equipment, among others.

It’s the smart home that will drive the most interest, I think.

Show announcements will likely reflect the imminent introduction of Matter and the continued expansion of the Thread-supporting smart device ecosystem. These standards emerged from what was the pan-industry Connected Home over IP group, which Apple has been working with since 2019.

Regular readers will recall these standards work across multiple smart home ecosystems to deliver better user experiences. A device developed for one platform should work fine on another, which hopefully means more solutions will become compatible with Apple’s HomeKit. And what starts at home often migrates into the office.

[Also read: 12+ tips to make remote meetings more effective]

Samsung helped develop both Thread and Matter. While the company hasn’t said so much, it has promised at CES to introduce: “A new solution that helps you better integrate all our smart home devices,” which hints at some announcement there.

While I won’t name names, I’ve also recently noticed some volume of messages from various firms in the smart space who will make announcements at the show, which I hope will include support for these standards.

They should. The entire industry expects Matter and Thread will accelerate smart home deployment and CES 2022 will be an obvious forum for first sight of these solutions.

Apple won’t be at the show

Apple last attended CES in January 2020, when its senior director of global privacy, Jane Horvath joined a round table event on privacy. That moment ended a 28-year gap since the company’s last appearance, when former CEO John Sculley introduced the Newton personal digital assistant in 1992.

Back in today’s world, Apple’s decision to postpone a return to work in its offices indefinitely hints that even if it ever intended another surprise appearance, such plans have very likely been shelved.

The sad truth is that the entire industry will be watching CES for the wrong reasons this year, as it attempts to figure out whether 2022 will be another year of remote keynotes and events.

Apple developer relations and senior execs will be watching closely, too, as they seek to decide if June’s WWDC 2022 will once again be an online-only show.

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Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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