The 2011 Consumer Electronics Show: Q&A With CEO Gary Shapiro

Since 1967, the Consumer Electronics Show has been dazzling consumers and industry buffs alike with the latest in modern technology. Today, the Consumer Electronics Association boasts more than 2,000 member companies, and the crowd at this year’s expo should total more than 120,000 — a far cry from the estimated 15,000 who attended the first gathering.

Though we’ve come a long way from items like the Commodore 64 (which debuted in 1982) and the VCR (1970), the goal of CES has remained constant: for the “little guys” of the tech world to have their stories heard and their products seen. Industry giants like Bill Gates and Gordon Earle Moore were once sitting at a small 10x10 booth at CES, and the industry leaders of tomorrow will be at those same booths this year, says CEA president and CEO Gary Shapiro.

We checked in with Gary to find out what to expect at CES this year and which items will be generating the most buzz.

Fox Business: How is the electronics industry at large faring these days?

Shapiro: Fantastic. We survived the recession. The industry has been healthy, and the landscape has really forced companies to innovate. As a result, what you’ll see at CES this year is a phenomenal introduction of products from cars to candies (yes, candy) to tablets. CES is the largest trade show of any type in the Americas, so we have been preparing for the influx for months.

Fox Business: So this year’s CES will be different from those in the past?

Shapiro: Well, there is never a “normal” in consumer electronics because you are always comparing apples and oranges, or tablets and HDTVs. Also, prices on technology are always lowering, so each year you’re going to get a more phenomenal price than you did the year before, and there’ll be an improvement on what you saw last year. You can’t say that about other industries.

Fox Business: So if CES focuses on new products, does that mean you’re going after the early adapter?

Shapiro: Well, the early adapter is very important to the industry, but CES exists for the entrepreneur. We believe that anyone with an idea and $1,200 should be able to get a small booth and get exposed to the largest gathering of tech in the world.

Fox Business: How much does it cost to get a table at CES?

Shapiro: It costs $3,000 for a 10x10 exhibit space to fill up any way you want. We help the new guys who have never been there before to decorate their booths, get access to the press room, and get a feel for the lay of the land. We have always wanted to keep booth prices down because, as everyone says, the next great idea is going to come out of someone's garage. Even Bill Gates needed the exposure for his success.

Fox Business: What items will be generating the most buzz at CES this year?

Shapiro: Well, it’s hard to separate what's hot at CES and what's hot in the industry. In the industry and at CES, the top items are expected to be in video gaming, the tablet computer space, and 3D high performance TVs.

Moving forward, people can expect to be connected wherever they go, in home, in their cars, etc. In the future, location based services will follow you.

Fox Business: What type of location-based services do you have your eye on?

Shapiro: Well, my frustration now is that my GPS doesn’t learn from my mistakes, but in the future it will!  I know my own way around my town better than it does, but it won’t always be that way. An Internet-based system will allow you to have real time info, using biometrics and nanotechnology -- even devices themselves will have Internet addresses so you'll be connected everywhere.

Fox Business: What about the tablet space? It really seems to be heating up.

Shapiro: The tablet is popular due to its medium-sized screen. It’s the perfect balance between the small screen of a Smartphone and the large screen of a TV. You’ll see in droves ebook readers and tablets filling the space with their middle-sized screens. It’s a phenomenal sales category, and I have to admit I have tablet envy! I asked a cab driver a question the other day, and he pulled out his tablet to give me directions! The interesting thing about tablets is that they didn’t exist two years ago, and now they are off the charts!

Fox Business: What about other themes we’re going to see this year?

Shapiro: The main theme is Internet over everything — broadband connectivity. Of course anything having to do with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) is big. Although Apple won’t be at CES this year, we’ll have the iLounge which will have 200 companies showcasing Apple products. Anything in the vehicle space is showing phenomenal growth, because vehicles are incorporating everything… Well, they aren’t doing 3D TVs, but they’re doing pretty much everything else!

Fox Business: What else is getting connected besides cars?

Shapiro: Connected appliances will be huge. Your fridge can order food for you when you're out, but it goes beyond that into energy management systems. Let's say you're leaving but you want it to be warm when you get home, so you can remotely set your heat to come on while  you’re away. You can also monitor your appliances’ energy usage from an app on your phone while you’re away.

Fox Business:  Historically, how long is it after a company debuts at CES before it hits consumer homes?

Shapiro: Typically, about six months to a year. But first of all, a lot of things you see at CES you'll never see in homes. Sometimes companies are just testing things out with analysts to get feedback and those things will never see the light of day. On the other hand, some things appear at CES when they’re being released to the public, and they’ll be on shelves in two months. As an example, Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) introduced the Kinect at CES last year, and it’s doing phenomenally well this holiday season. A lot of what we see at CES this year will become great holiday products for the 2011 fourth quarter.

Fox Business: One last question — are there any products that were expected to be huge that flopped on the mass market? By contrast, is there anything that fell flat at CES that became really popular in the mainstream?

Shapiro: I remember in the mid 1980s people were saying the Coleco Adam could do everything, and I don’t think it was ever sold. It just fizzed, but it certainly drove the stock price up! Honestly, companies often show off things they can’t deliver because it’s just too expensive to produce or they just can’t deliver. Other times some companies will put something in a display that’s just a mock up simply to drive their competitors crazy!

On the flip side, I’ve never seen a good product not get an equally positive reception at CES. If there’s something there, people always see the potential.