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CES: Tech throws a party, and Apple stays home

The tech industry is throwing its biggest party of the year, and the coolest kid on the block isn't coming.

The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the industry's mammoth trade show and product premiere event, opens Thursday in Las Vegas. Tech heavyweights ranging from Microsoft to Sony to Samsung will gather to showcase their latest and greatest wares. But this year, with tablet devices being all the rage--Motorola, LG and Research in Motion (makers of Blackberry) are all expected to debut new devices or new models--there will be a notable absentee. Apple, maker of the popular iPad tablet, not to mention iPod, iPhone and the updated Apple TV, will yet again not make the trip to CES.

While rumors have abounded in past years that Apple might stoop to appearing at the annual confab, they never materialize. Instead, Apple chooses to host its own product premieres--carefully staged, highly secretive events planned with plenty of choreography from Steve Jobs himself.

By doing so, Jobs retains meticulous, complete control over his product roll-outs. But to preserve the mystique of Apple's brand, does Jobs have to skip CES? Or does their annual boycott simply make him and his company seem more elitist and inaccessible?

The latter question doesn't really matter. Whether or not Apple attends CES, Apple does position itself above the fray and, in many ways, is closed off. But that hasn't hurt its success one bit. Going to CES might improve its standing among techies who don't buy the company's products on the principle that it doesn't always play nice with others. But it won't make a lick of difference to the millions of consumers who've gobbled up Apple's sleek new gadgets and gizmos.

The more interesting question is whether attending CES would actually hurt the mystique of Apple's brand. Theoretically, even if the company attended the annual trade show that wouldn't mean it had to launch its latest iPad there, or divulge big news at the Las Vegas event. It could still reserve those announcements for its own Steve Jobs-starring premieres, and could simply use CES for networking, speech-making (Jobs has received invitations to make keynotes) and product showcasing. CES already devotes thousands of square feet on the floor to Apple- and Mac-related products, after all. And most average consumers don't attend CES, so they wouldn't know Apple had deigned to mingle among the tech proletariat.

That said, I still believe neither Jobs nor his company should ever set foot in the Las Vegas Convention Center. Jobs doesn't need the platform of a Consumer Electronics Show keynote to make news; all the Mock-Turtlenecked One has to do is breathe funny to turn the tech industry press corps a-twitter. Apple also isn't in much need of product showcasing--the company already has more than 200 gleaming i-temples to design, otherwise known as its retail stores. And Jobs' carefully orchestrated product announcements have long been successful at creating not only news, but months of pre-announcement coverage simply anticipating the news.

What makes Apple successful isn't just the design, the technology or the innovation, although all of those things play a role. What makes Apple successful is the cult behind its brand, its history of standing apart from the rest of the tech industry, and its status--now potentially in question as millions flock to buy its products--as the cool alternative to the mass-produced gray and black boxes from other tech giants. Jobs knows this, and runs Apple (for the most part) in a way that tries zealously to preserves that mystique. Why bother showing up at someone else's massive bash when you could have your own private party?

Related pieces by Jena McGregor:

The hubris of Steve Jobs

With Apple TV, Jobs speaks to the masses

By Jena McGregor

 |  January 6, 2011; 10:26 AM ET |  Category:  CEO watch , Corporate leadership , Technology Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Intuit Quickbooks = sleezy business. So i get a call sayng that they have on record more activations than allowed under the license agreement. Therefore my work has to pay for the additional activations. Oh and heres the catch. They said since its been activated last year, we will still have to pay even if we had uninstalled it. Well the reality is we reinstall and reactivate the program when we troubleshoot our own computers. So how do they tell which activation is real?
Then charging about $300 per activation for small businesses is such a sleezy way of ripping companies off in an economic recession. The shady part is, they dont tell you until you go over your activation limit a few times. Instead of telling us upfront, they want to charge us and make money off smaller companies. What a sleezy business.
Why even make it possible to install more than the allowable activations? So they can come back and charge business for the extra activations AFTER THE FACT
Microsoft Office 2007 will say one disk is for 3 installations and won't let you install more than 3 times, but Quickbooks allows you to go over their installation/activation limit without warning. Charge for "violations" after the fact. That's called sleezy business. Trying to rip off the small businesses that help the country's job growth. No wonder Intuit stocks aren't going anywhere
Microsoft Office 2007 will say one disk is for 3 installations and won't let you install more than 3 times, but Quickbooks allows you to go over their installation/activation limit without warning. That's called sleezy business. Trying to rip off the small businesses that help the country's job growth.

Posted by: matchmatch111 | January 20, 2011 3:58 PM

Steve Jobs is an ego-maniac who ignored his own daughter while building a Kool-Aid-drunk crowd of dork followers looking for a prophet.
Apple products have some benefits but those do not warrant the premiums charged. In this economy, many PC-based products, including no-names, serve customers as well.
The teens & college kids madly buying tech fads are hardly indicative of quality @ Apple.
And the suicide rate @ Apple plants in China is a scandal, as much as twice as bad as the rate @ other tech assembly houses. Check this before buying.

Posted by: FloridaChick | January 10, 2011 11:00 AM

Apple wasn't above the fray - they announced their new app store at the beginning of CES and leaked the Verizon iPhone at the end. They absolutely tried to steal the buzz.

Posted by: splamco | January 9, 2011 3:20 PM

Correction to my post

They also have the advantage of running well and quickly on less powerful hardware and this makes them cheaper right there even before one considers the software is usually free.

Posted by: dfolk1 | January 9, 2011 12:13 PM

The author said
"What makes Apple successful isn't just the design, the technology or the innovation, although all of those things play a role. What makes Apple successful is the cult behind its brand"

I think this comment ignores the elephant in the room- the (frequently) poor quality and problematic performance characteristics of the products Apple competes against.
I am referring to Microsoft products. Apple products, while they can and do have problems, consistently (though not in EVERY instance) perform better and cause the user less grief than MS products.
I have been repairing and fixing Microsoft products for years. Apple simply makes a better, more reliable, and less troublesome product on the whole.
When folks ask my opinion on what kind of computer they should get next, my answer is generally:
1) Are you locked into Microsoft?- in other words, is there some piece of software you need to use which is not available on a non-MS product.
2) If you are not locked into Microsoft, and can afford somewhat of a premium on the price of the computer, buy an Apple if you want the least troublesome available computer.
3) If you are a little geeky and do not mind learning something new, and you would like to save money, you can try a UNIX type system like Ubuntu (which is free) http://www.ubuntu.com/ . These systems are vastly more secure and less vulnerable to malware than MS systems and more secure than Apple systems. They also have the advantage of running well and quickly on less powerful software and this makes them cheaper right there even before one considers the software is usually free.

Apple has EARNED its reputation because they make a generally and fairly consistently superior product compared to Microsoft. It is the cult of noticing who makes better products.

Posted by: dfolk1 | January 9, 2011 12:09 PM

" It seems that as long as we have their money, it's a waste of time doing anything more for them than we had to."

Now that is a true comment on the state of many US businesses.

Your boss is the one that should be fired. Next time the old folk's home's contract comes up, obviously they will remember that you saved their butts.

As for Apple and CES, I agree w/ many others who say why would Apple bother? I worked for a company that attended CES for several yrs as a presenter.

The cost and hassles of attending are staggering, money better spent elsewhere.

I don't use any Apple products, just don't have a need for what they sell, but I do admire the products they develop and sell.

They are well designed, and while the designs aren't always flawless, they are much closer than most other products.

Posted by: BEEPEE | January 9, 2011 2:50 AM

This author is clearly a newby and needs some experience covering technology before inflicting them ill-informed non-story on us. It has been a DECADE since Apple attended this show. This is news? Many others have dropped out. Why? Because of the noise vs substance. You are one of 20 copy-cat tablets in this case. As for the asinine comment on DOJ, maybe you should look more closely at the 90% market share Google has, as well as their huge role in dictating tech policy for the Obama administration, to which the management team was a huge contributor.

Posted by: kinoworks | January 8, 2011 5:23 PM

Apple should be ignored except by the DOJ

Posted by: uzs106 | January 8, 2011 1:39 PM

This is not a story. The CES is a story that could be covered, there is plenty to talk about. I'm sick of articles about CES that focus on who is not there. Go out and find a story to report. Talk about what/who IS there.

Posted by: larry9 | January 7, 2011 4:12 PM

Apple is just another company that generates jobs - in China.

Posted by: timothy2me | January 7, 2011 2:06 PM

In addition, there is the very real chance Apple might pick up the Geek Taint from CES which would be really bad with their arty base consumer. They have an elite image, and get premium prices because of it.

Posted by: Muddy_Buddy_2000 | January 7, 2011 1:51 PM

People forget too soon that Apple had to go it alone for many years working hard to overcome the virtual monopoly that Microsoft had on business machines and applications. Apple's "secrets" to success are the same as other successful companies; innovation, ease of use, elegant design and predictable performance and perseverance. And most importantly, one of the founders continues hands-on management of the company.

Posted by: rcp3 | January 7, 2011 1:31 PM

Someone here wrote:
"Why should they attend shows that don't benefit them?"

Because communication and openness WOULD benefit the people who buy their stuff.

In this country, when companies become dominant in a market segment, they often get the disease of greed-driven arrogance, and decide that what's best for THEM is not the same as what's best for THEIR CUSTOMERS.

Every single time this happens, it's the turning point where the company begins to become irrelevant--not a market leader anymore. Even though they still sell lots of products for a few years, this marks the beginning of their decline, and in 15 years they'll become a joke.

It happened to IBM, it's happening to Microsoft, and it will happen to Apple now that they're really successful.

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

Japanese companies aren't like that. Suppose someone at a meeting says "Wait, it looks like doing this will be good for us, but it will make our customers hate us!" If the company were Sony, the other participants would pause to consider that. But say it in an American company and you either get laughed at for being "naive" or you get fired for "not being a team player" and screwing over your customers.

I know. It happened to me. While I was leaving for an on-site tech support call, my boss told me to do a destructive reformat of the client HDD. Instead, I did a data-preserving reformat which took 20 minutes instead of 10 because the sector data is written back into the formatted sector.

The client, a Jewish old folk's home, told me "We thank God you were able to save all our company records; it's the only copy we had!" But when I told my boss that, I was fired because they had a service contract. It seems that as long as we have their money, it's a waste of time doing anything more for them than we had to.

In America, it turns out that a lot of other extremely competent homeless people have stories like this, and it demonstrates why our country is going the way of IBM. Honesty and integrity are actively punished, while secretive sleazeballs prosper.

If you're a mom and pop bakery, you're proud to tell people about your apple pies. If you're Apple computer, you couldn't care less if your customers know what you plan to sell them, as long as you have their money and a proprietary architecture.

--faye kane, homeless brain
More of my smartmouth at http://tinyurl.com/fayescave

Posted by: Knee_Cheese_Zarathustra | January 7, 2011 12:58 PM

Don't like Apple or Jobs all that much I see. Thing is your comments are fairly typical of most who dislike Apple and their products. Instead of substantive criticism or comment there is just dripping contempt.

Also I notice on this blog there is a fair amount of blog spam. Related I wonder?

Posted by: larryclyons | January 7, 2011 12:16 PM

What could the CES offer that Apple would want to copy? Apple looks forward, not backward.

Posted by: jdman2 | January 7, 2011 9:54 AM

Apple got more tech press headlines yesterday by publishing a single press release and launching the Mac App Store than all of the CES exhibitors combined. What do they have to gain from joining the noisy crowd?

Posted by: rickp644 | January 7, 2011 9:36 AM

The "C" in CES is Consumer. Apple has all that it needs in that market segment. They need to develop more in the way of BUSINESS computing. Their closed iPAD is nifty, but business leaders demand more before they'll deploy 1000s of tablets in the enterprise. And then there's price...

Posted by: schafer-family | January 7, 2011 9:17 AM

I'm not sure why this is a story. Apple never has participated in CES, even during the period in the 90s that Jobs wasn't in charge. This issue comes up every year, and is a huge waste of time.

Posted by: booboola7896 | January 7, 2011 8:04 AM

Apple "is different" (tm). It is a matter of corporate design.

Posted by: uzs106 | January 7, 2011 6:10 AM

Steve Jobs is a smart and innovative man. If he doesn't need the shows, why should he enter them. So some prodding reporter can find a small flaw, and blow it out of proportion? Who needs that?

Posted by: barrysal | January 7, 2011 1:47 AM

Steve Jobs is a smart and innovative man. If he doesn't need the shows, why should he enter them. So some prodding reporter can find a small flaw, and blow it out of proportion? Who needs that?

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Posted by: zhengee665 | January 7, 2011 1:20 AM

Companies show their products at CES because the reporters don't come running to their door when new products are announced. They need the press exposure and CES is a good place to get it.

Apple doesn't need more press exposure. World + Dog shows up at their product announcements and then we get to see lines of people outside the apple stores on the evening news. Who needs CES when you can get press coverage like that on your own?

Posted by: frantaylor | January 6, 2011 11:57 PM

This is so dumb. Why would you stand on a stage and share the spotlight with 12 other guys when 10 of them produce things that won't even exist in a year?

Apple takes big, and I mean BIG chances: the iPhone was revolutionary, no? The iPad is a raging success in a niche that has been declared dead 100 times, now everybody wants to play. The iPod and iPod Touch need no introduction - nor competition, apparently, since nobody else can get traction there. iTunes? The iTunes Store? The App Store?

Why would Steve Jobs bother with the CES, when he commands more attention - not just from Apple fanbois but from everyone, including the mainstream press - by "Thinking Different". You want to talk lemmings? Talk about everybody crowding around the CES this year saying "I have a tablet too! Look! It's almost as good!"

Bah. This column is either the product of a reporter's desperate lack of better ideas, or the result of a fundamental misunderstanding of how to stage a new product introduction in its best light. (And what would Jobs DO at the CES, anyway? Stand there with his hands in his pockets?)

Posted by: miffedone | January 6, 2011 10:56 PM

"Cult"?....you have a PC don't you.

Posted by: mil1 | January 6, 2011 9:23 PM

It is crystal clear that Apple does not want to have their products side-by-side with their competition. Better to stand alone and let the lemmings follow the pied piper right to the Apple store.

It is sad that so many people feel the need to use products to prove their coolness. But then these people must have more money than brains.

Posted by: skramsv | January 6, 2011 6:41 PM

At Apples juncture in their business cycle, they are well advised, to stay out of these shows, and host their own media announcements. With their market cap, and so far excellent products, by staying away, lets the consumer see how all the rest of what is being hyped is junk. As fast as this industry moves look to Google and Apple to approach a monopoly. Currently what else does a consumer require.

Posted by: dangreen3 | January 6, 2011 3:43 PM

I just think it is hilarious:
In 1984, Apple's famous commercial did its Big Brother riff on IBM..

Now who is controlling and monolithic?

I hope to see who becomes the Giant Slayer of today/tomorrow.

Posted by: dtr21502 | January 6, 2011 3:11 PM

"hat makes Apple successful isn't just the design, the technology or the innovation, although all of those things play a role. What makes Apple successful is the cult behind its brand,"

I think Ms. McGregor is confusing the cart and the horse. The cult is there because there is a certain segment of the population who loves the Apple products because they are a joy to use.

If the stuff was crap, they couldn't pull off the hype and mystique. If the product line doesn't resonate with some consumers, those people have a lo of other choices. The whole question would only be relevant if the Apple business model was failing. Last I heard, it seemed to be doing ok.

Apple clearly knows their audience, so why worry about whether or not they show up at some event that they clearly don't think has any particular benefit for them? Why try to equate using judgement as to what is a beneficial use of your time with elitism?

I think this is another example of an attempt to generate controversy over a non-issue, just to fill up website space. Can you really not find something of more significance to discuss?

Posted by: AnnieDC | January 6, 2011 1:54 PM

Generally speaking, when Apple releases a new product, it works and works well. Generally speaking, a surprisingly large percentage of new consumer electronic products are buggy, defective, or both. It makes no sense for Apple to intentionally wade into the pool with those other guys. And guess what? Mr. Jobs full well knows this.

Posted by: xSamplex | January 6, 2011 1:48 PM

Oh geeze! I though it was widely reported that Steve said that trying to meet a January deadline just to roll out products during CES was ludicrous. Apparently, products were rolling out that weren’t completely finished or, uh, thought out. That leads to mistakes and a tarnished image. The iPad is already out; will all the other knockoffs be any better? Do consumers really care about 3-D TV? What’s this year’s big idea at CES? In addition, generally Apple aims to make the big software splash in June.

Sometimes CES seems a little stale, even with all the industry big wigs at the shindig. If your company isn’t offering a new, and certainly not a finished product, why attend? I think Apple’s own ability to roll out its products benefits it a whole lot more. The focus is on the product – it’s not competing for time with a plethora of vendors with a bunch of products. And if something new and noteworthy is discovered at CES, hopefully the news people will have the time to spend with that vendor.

The question isn’t is Apple too cool to attend. I think the real question is: Why are many of those companies at CES?

Posted by: ummhuh1 | January 6, 2011 1:47 PM

Control is what Apple is and has always been- controlling the hardware/software experience, controlling avenues of distribution, controlling events, controlling the prices of its products and services, etc. And this fits in with its controlling how it announces new products. But the benefit of these controls is even though Apple products are higher priced and are more difficult to buy, they simply work better and give the user more satisfaction and loyalty. So Apple does need to attend these shows and be in an "uncontrolled" glare of media attention. Besides, what are they announcing?

Posted by: Larry66 | January 6, 2011 1:01 PM

Apple is successful because they carefully craft their products, taking chances to introduce non-standard technology; they don't follow the crowd; they don't attend shows that don't benefit them; they don't do what people want just because those people think their opinion is important...

Posted by: ccs53 | January 6, 2011 12:46 PM

Apple gets free media exposure with their secrecy and aloofness as this column demonstrates. Why do anything different when you're now the most capitalized tech company in the U.S.?

Posted by: impressed1 | January 6, 2011 12:13 PM

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