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COVID causes next CES to go all-digital and it just won't be the same



It would have been hard to imagine otherwise, but the announcement that CES will be going all digital in January 2021 stings anyway and serves up yet another example of how COVID-19 continues to disrupt, well, everything.


"Amid the pandemic and growing global health concerns about the spread of COVID-19, it's just not possible to safely convene tens of thousands of people in Las Vegas in early January 2021 to meet and do business in person,” said Gary Shapiro, the president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which runs the annual pilgrimage to the Vegas desert.


”Technology helps us all work, learn and connect during the pandemic – and that innovation will also help us reimagine CES 2021 and bring together the tech community in a meaningful way," Shapiro continue. "By shifting to an all-digital platform for 2021, we can deliver a unique experience that helps our exhibitors connect with existing and new audiences."


COVID has already struck down numerous high-profile tech events in 2020, including Mobile World Congress, South by Southwest and Google I/O. Other events, such as Apple’s recent Worldwide Developers Conference, had to be staged online.


As for CES, "The only thing that's surprising is that it took them this long to decide. My feet will appreciate the virtual version," tweeted tech journalist Lance Ulanoff.


CES went off without a hitch this past January. But there has been considerable speculation the trade show may have played a role in spreading the virus, though I haven’t seen concrete proof. What we do know is that many of the 170,000-plus people who attended the event came from overseas, with some reporting nasty flu-like symptoms after the fact.


I was among the throngs who were there, as has been the case for most of the conferences that have taken place the past few decades. As a tech columnist, the shindig that used to be known as the Consumer Electronics Show was not only a place to check out new products, but a great way to catch up with industry contacts and friends and to get a keen sense on where the business was heading.


The all-digital CES promises product launches and keynote speeches just like the in-person gathering. But there’s no way it will be the same.