"CES is a rite of passage for the technology industry, and it exists to identify the next generation of technologies that are going to change the ecosystem for consumers," he said. "That's why it's always held at the start of the year -- it sets the tone not just for the industry, but for Wall Street in terms of what to look out for."
The show, which began Tuesday and runs through Friday, has seen its relevance wane since its heyday in the 1990s and early 2000s. The decision by many large companies to scale back their presence or pull out entirely changed the dynamic of CES, shifting the spotlight to smaller players.
In 2011, Microsoft announced that it would no longer hold a keynote presentation or have a booth at CES after the 2012 trade show. "It feels like the right time to make this transition," the Redmond, Wash., company said at the time.
Instead, it joined many other tech behemoths that still attend CES, but quietly.
"Apple and Facebook are in here in force, but they just aren't on stage doing public activities. Apple and Facebook are meeting with vendors, distributors, and attending keynotes like everyone else," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy.
"Facebook doesn't have any tangible hardware products or home automation services to announce so they won't publicly say anything. Apple doesn't want to share the stage with any other company and wants all the attention on them. This is why they don't publicly attend," he said.
The absence of industry-shaking news from Silicon Valley's biggest names at CES has led to some derision among tech types. An AppleInsider editorial on Tuesday described the trade show as "basically a series of press releases, delivered in person inside of a very large room. It's like a live action version of a tech journalist's inbox, but with literal shouting."
Even CES fans acknowledge there might be some truth to that sentiment: With some 185,000 people in attendance, including 7,500 journalists, it's still "really overwhelming," Future Motion's Doerksen said.
"There are thousands and thousands of companies," he said, "and sometimes you feel like everything's so big around you and you're a small company trying to make it."
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