CES 2012: Gary Shapiro talks tech

Interview: Gary Shapiro
UK a big part of the CEA's CES plans

CES is the biggest event in the tech calendar which sees thousands of journalists and exhibitors head over to Las Vegas every January to witness the brightest stars in technology show off products that will fill retail shelf space in the coming year.

Earlier this month, the CEA (Consumer Electronics Association) brought the CES to London for the first time – in a link-up with British trade body the UKTI (UK Trade Investment) – and TechRadar sat down with CEA President and CEO Gary Shapiro to talk gadgets, royalty and why the technology sector is the most resilient around…

TechRadar: Why has it taken so long to have a CES presence in the UK?

Gary Shapiro: I was speaking at a conference that was featuring my book, hosted by Variety, which is a British publication, and the royal couple were visiting the US at the time and they wanted to promote trade with England so we got involved. And that was when we struck a relationship with UKTI.

TR: With TechCity growing in the UK can you see the UK ever playing host to its own CES? Will something ever branch off from the US show in Las Vegas?

GS: I don't know. International CES started in 1967 in New York City and it has taken 40 years to get as big as it has gotten and that is incremental. Our concern is that if you take CES out of Vegas then people will inevitably be disappointed. You just can't do that, it doesn't work that way in reality.

What we will do is take a look at the show here, analyse how well it went and work on improving it and making it better. It is part of our MO that we critique ourselves and go from there. There is no end game for us.

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TR: With the CEA recognising the importance of the UK now, do you think we will start to see more UK-centric companies come to the show and get more information like UK release dates from products?

GS: You may well see that in the future; certainly there is a growing UK presence.

I was speaking to someone today who met their most important business relationship at CES even though both companies were only a stone's through away from each other in London. If you ask companies then they will start thinking about it.

TR: Apps seem to be one of the biggest trends this year; does this mean we won't see a stand out product this year but a stand out service or app?

GS: With 2,700 exhibitors there will be more than one story this year, I can promise you that. There will be several major products being announced. In terms of applications, what you will see is that these apps will be integrated into the products themselves and will be featured however the company wants to show them off.

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I can't even begin to predict what these apps will be but I am confident there will be so many exciting apps.

TR: Why is the tech market so resilient to economic change?

GS: There are three reasons: the first is that everybody wants the products, they are desirable; the second is that the products are innovative, there is a massive amount of change happening in the new products from apps to new service; and three is the value story. Even if you aren't getting the newest, hottest product – and most people aren't – it is the only industry where prices are coming down all the time while innovation is speeding up.

I wish this would happen in more industries, like aviation and automobiles but it just isn't. Consumer technology is just a nominal position and very rarely do we not grow.

TR: What is exciting you most in the technology sector at the moment?

GS: I am very excited about wireless communications and the health and fitness category. I am convinced that this is a place that will grow and grow over the next few years. This will particularly happen in the US. The population is getting older and the cost of healthcare has gone up. So we will see smartphones begin to monitor healthcare [something TechRadar already witnessed at CEATEC 2011].

In fact there is a product that is made by a British company which is apparently more effective than IVF for helping a woman figuring out when she should get pregnant and it has a money back guarantee.

It will be mentioned in the opening keynote and is a monitor that you wear under your arm. It is not for sale in the US as our government has not let it yet.

There are variations of things – wherever it is measuring your heart, glucose levels – there's a lot of to be released.

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TR: How do you make sense of such a big show as CES?

GS: We try and group the shows into categories but we let the companies talk about their products in such a way that it will make you want them.

What we used to see 20 to 30 years ago is that products would first start in a business environment and be used there before they trickled down to consumers. But now it is consumers that are buying the latest smartphones and bringing them into the office and say 'deal with this'. Consumers are where innovation is booming so now governments are taking their nods from consumer behaviour and taking their solutions for these.

TR: What is the one gadget you can't live without?

GS: I can't live without a PVR and I don't have the male gene for navigation so I need a sat nav. I also am addicted to my smartphone and tablet. It is like having two children and not knowing which one I can't live without.

TR: Do you think you can give sat nav to us journalists for getting round CES?

GS: Well, there is now an app for that which is really good, which allows mapping and setting up your meetings. It is great for getting through this phenomenal centrepiece for the world's tech innovation. There's no way you can get around everything on your own in four days. It is over 20 miles of walking so you really have to find out what you are interested in and hone in on it.

CES 2012 takes place 9-13 January. TechRadar will of course be there to bring you all the latest from the show.

Marc Chacksfield

Marc Chacksfield is the Editor In Chief, Shortlist.com at DC Thomson. He started out life as a movie writer for numerous (now defunct) magazines and soon found himself online - editing a gaggle of gadget sites, including TechRadar, Digital Camera World and Tom's Guide UK. At Shortlist you'll find him mostly writing about movies and tech, so no change there then.