Consumer electronics, new technologies, IT, telecommunications and similar markets have two large annual gatherings seen as key industry events: CES in Las Vegas and IFA, which is held in Berlin. Nearly all major announcements, premiers and hints of future trends take place in Las Vegas and Berlin. CES and IFA are awaited with the biggest amount of curiosity and once they are over, people talk about what has happened at these festivals of our digital future for quite a while.
They have competitors, but not rivals. The two annual CTIA shows and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona are popular, but they cover just a narrow market segment that’s fully determined by smartphone manufacturers and mobile network carriers. Shows like CeBIT and Computex, although still vast, have fallen far from the limelight and lost their fame with industry professionals.
CES or IFA?
It is natural to wonder, which of these two shows is better, isn’t it? Does it pay off more to invest in a trip to Vegas or to Berlin? Where can new technologies be seen and perceived better? Which is more interesting and amusing? Basically, which show offers more?
I visited the last four CES shows and the last five IFA shows, but with all the impressions I have collected, the answer to these questions is still complex. It would be easy, yet superficial, to assess the quality of a show according to its quantity, comparing the number of exhibitors, visitors, size of the exhibition area or, even worse, the number of celebrities that have toured the events.
CES is a closed event anyways, with only professionals being granted access, while anyone who purchases a ticket can visit IFA. Furthermore, CES counts each individual visitor, while IFA counts every entry to the show. CES does not count aisles between booths and additional floors as exhibitional area, while on the other hand, IFA does not count occupied rooms across Berlin where events produced by the show also take place.
Some other factors are important to those who tour such shows, whether they are exhibitors, speakers or visitors. For example, isn’t a large number of visitors a sign of a large crowd, thus a shortcoming and not an advantage of an event?
Speaking from my experience, the date, location and technical organization of these tradeshows is critical for such significant and influential gatherings.
January or September?
As far as the timing goes, IFA has the upper hand over CES. The beginning of September, when IFA takes place is ideal for the launch of products which will be available in stores in November and December when the market season is peaking. CES is held just after Christmas and New Year’s holidays, when the market is in a lull and many do not wish to see that a new version of a gadget they had just bought or received a few weeks ago is already in the offing. True, nobody minds extending the New Year’s partying with a trip to Las Vegas, but a trip to Berlin is an additional week away from the office for many.
It is precisely due to the date when it is held that IFA conveys more glitzy and successful premiers of new devices. For instance, Samsung’s Galaxy Tab was launched at the 2010 IFA, while the 2011 IFA saw the debut of the Samsung Galaxy Note — a device which overshadowed many freshly unveiled smartphones and tablets at the recent CES. The biggest hit of last year’s CES was Motorola Xoom — the hype surrounding this tablet lasted only for a while… until iPad 2 showed up, which literally absorbed all the elation created in Las Vegas just two months later.
We all loved the Nokia Lumia 900 at this year’s CES, but I wonder: can this infatuation last longer than the end of February when Samsung is expected to launch the Galaxy S III in Barcelona and a whole line of other revolutionary smartphones will be revealed by HTC, Sony, LG, Huawei, even Nokia itself?
Vegas or Berlin?
When it comes to the location of the show, one does not have to be a Secretary of Tourism to see who has the upper hand. CES is held in the wildest city in America and most likely the entire planet. Anyone who has never been to Vegas wants to go, and everyone who has been to Vegas at least once wants to visit it again.
Truth be told, one has to stomach Las Vegas, prepare for the sleepless nights, the immense amounts of kitsch which eat away at the brain, the superficiality, shallowness and crudity of entertainment which we despise the rest of the year — however — this is simply fun!
Berlin is also an exceptionally playful and entertaining city and certainly the most modern, open and decadent capital in Europe. It is not the least bit shallow, superficial, non-intelligent, fake or kitschy. You will encounter real Europe in Berlin, the way you could never encounter real America in Las Vegas. However, Vegas is Vegas, there is no need for further elaboration.
Transportation or Wi-Fi?
If the competition between CES and IFA is at a draw after the date and location, show organization might be the tie-breaker. Two immaculately organized events are in question, but I give IFA a slight advantage.
As Ed Hardy already wrote in an editorial, CES has become a victim of its own fame. One cannot withstand the crowdedness that prevails in the exhibitional area, as well as at product launches which are prepared only for the press. If you do not show up an hour or two hours early at such an event, you will not be able to see the device which is being introduced up close. Forget about getting your hands on it at the show. I managed to test the Nokia Lumia 900 for just a minute or two, after a long period of waiting and pushing.
IFA has far bigger pavilions and requires the exhibitors to display a large amount of new hit products. Furthermore, IFA features a day when the show is open exclusively to the press. I had 30 minutes to play with Galaxy Tab two years ago, as well as Galaxy Note at last year’s IFA, without getting in anybody’s way.
Moreover, CES has poor Wi-Fi. IFA has excellent Wi-Fi. On the other hand, there are shuttles which drive around anyone with a pass to their hotel at CES. IFA does not include this service, and cabs in Berlin are significantly more expensive than in Vegas. CES has a brilliant web site and fantastic Facebook and Twitter presence; IFA not so much. Both shows have fantastic PR teams which do wonders for the media hype created over these two events, while MWC, CeBIT and Computex can only dream of something like this.
My conclusion is a diplomatic one — neither of these shows are better than the other. I will visit both the next IFA and next CES. Perhaps I will be just better informed.
About Dragan Petric
For the last fifteen years, Dragan Petric (www.draganpetric.com) has been working as an IT journalist, editor and analyst, with special interests in telecommunication technologies and services. In addition, he authored five books and published over 2,500 articles in many magazines and newspapers in Europe. He has attended about 30 telecommunications and IT congresses around the world and won several journalists awards for his work.