Heather Delaney, the Founder and Managing Director of Gallium Ventures, a tech communications consultancy, has been the CES hero we all didn’t know we needed, but got this year. While many of us were back in yet another pandemic lockdown she was out and about and one of the around 40,000 attendees who “defied the odds” and made the trip to Las Vegas to catch the latest trends in consumer electronics (and, as it turns out, COVID-19, but that’s another story…).

During her time in Las Vegas, Heather who’d made the trip from the UK, went out of her way to document her experience at a somewhat different (read: emptier) CES 2022 on Twitter.

And while we do know that a picture says more than a thousand words, we did ask Heather to share some thoughts on a mid-pandemic CES, consumer tech and femtech, so today we’re excited to bring you “CES 2022: An Event Veteran’s Perspective”, a guest post by Heather Delaney.

Enjoy, and thanks Heather for contributing to our blog! 💖

Gallium Ventures Founder & CES 2022 Attendee Heather Delaney. Image: Gallium Ventures

CES 2022: An Event Veteran’s Perspective

I have been attending CES for so many years that I have had event staff recognise me, and if you showed me a piece of carpet I could identify which of the Vegas conference centres it’s from. It was, therefore, with a mixture of emotions that I looked forward to the 2022 iteration of the world’s largest consumer technology show. 

There was curious excitement as I imagined a CES without the usual heaving mass of tech enthusiasts, engineers, exhibitors, and journalists. Dreams of swanning straight to the till instead of a 30 minute queue for coffee or taxis.

As with many who decided to attend this year, there was some concern as I wondered whether the safety measures the CTA were putting in place to project attendees would be enough. There was also genuine worry about the COVID-19 situation, having caught the virus at the last in-person CES my fear that history could repeat itself was not unfounded.

CES 2022 – first impressions

I was genuinely astounded at the sheer number of exhibitors and attendees that hadn’t turned up. Whether this was due to an inability to procure a visa, the wrong vaccination or a fear of COVID, it was surreal to experience the World’s Largest Consumer Electronics Show with fewer than a quarter of the normal numbers (CES estimated 40,000 attendees compared to the normal 180,000). 

During the shortened conference I found myself playing tour guide to a colleague who was attending for the first time and all she could watch me do was point out all of the empty spaces and what should have been in its place. I had a need to paint a picture for her of what the conference would have looked like prior to the pandemic, and the difficulty of getting from point A to point B in a timely fashion. 

Looking for FemTech

A first look at the CES app proved FemTech wasn’t a priority as it didn’t recognise FemTech as a search term. So, there’s that. This is an important sector that is building in importance, seeing as around half the population is female, and one I support as the opportunity to improve technology within the sector is both exciting and necessary. Sadly the pickings were slim for CES 2022. 

When looking for exciting products and services that might sit within the arena we found one that was specific – a kegel trainer. The rest which might mistakenly get listed under FemTech was actually baby tech yet they probably get grouped under the same category even though the care of infants isn’t the responsibility of women alone. 

Trending innovations

Air purifiers – they were everywhere and were as ubiquitous as the use of the word ‘sustainability’ everywhere we looked. This was a clear indication of the response to the climate crisis, with tech businesses looking at ways to do their part to combat it.  However not all of the efforts seemed to be joined up properly. What good is an air purifier if the net cost of running it is higher and more damaging to the environment than the amount of air it can purify? This seemed to be a recurring theme with some of the other exhibitors where the pay-off for the use of tech to alleviate one element of the climate crisis actually ends up becoming a cost to another element. 

Deserted in the desert

As the week went by the number of attendees grew but as you may have seen and heard via various news channels it was no way near the same sort of numbers we were used to expecting from pre-pandemic times. I developed a compulsion for photographing all of the vast empty spaces we saw as we walked around the conference halls as evidence to future me what CES could be like. And I think that was the point – across the different conference centres and exhibition halls there were yawning acres of empty space, all of which added to the notion that the event was grossly under-attended which deadened the atmosphere. Had organisers given things a little bit more consideration they could have combined exhibits within fewer centres. it would save on all of the additional trekking we had to do and create a more exciting, dynamic vibe.

Courting controversy

The potential controversy for companies that attended was the fact that CES was cut short but no one at the CTA seems to have anything to say with regards to offering some sort of refund to the exhibitors. For these businesses it isn’t just the cost of coming to the conference, there’s flight tickets, accommodation, sustenance, and the resenting of equipment. It all adds up yet the opportunity for a final day’s push to meet that potential new investor, get the business card of a distributor or catch the eye of that influential journalist has been taken away. 

It was a CES like no other, and I can only imagine those that attended CES 2022 will be the ones stating for many years to come “I remember when…”, but the proof is in the pudding. Was CES safe, and was it a worthwhile investment for those that attended?

Only time can tell. 

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