At least Comdex visitors are used to standing in long lines. This year "security" lines were added to the usual lines for buses, taxis, registration and food as show officials added metal detectors, bomb-sniffing dogs and other airport-like bag checking operations in an effort to thwart any potential for terrorist attacks against America's premier high-tech trade show.
Comdex remains the largest high-tech trade show in America. But the show has been downsized considerably through a combination of tight travel and marketing budgets, the collapse of the Internet economy, the recession plaguing most of the technology industry and fear of terrorism as five of the terrorists that died in the attacks on New York and the Pentagon visited Las Vegas this year on four occasions.
Only about 125,000 people came for this year's event, down from more than 200,000 a year ago. Included in the total are 60,000 to 80,000 local residents and exhibitors thus reducing the number of true IT professionals to a very small number. "Going to Las Vegas and Comdex if your company has restricted travel is tough," said Rob Enderle, analyst with the Giga Information Group.
As a telling sign of the times, Cisco CEO John Chambers looked out over a half-empty auditorium as he delivered his keynote address on the opening day of Comdex. Keynote speeches have always been jam-packed events, especially for personalities such as Chambers.
Unlike Comdex shows of the past that were spread out over three or more facilities around Las Vegas, this year's event was entirely confined to the main Las Vegas Convention Center. But there were plenty of open spaces there as well, some unsold and other spaces were left empty because dozens of companies, despite having paid for the booth space up front, simply decided not to show up for economic and other reasons.
Fewer than 2,000 companies exhibited, down from 2,400 a year ago. Total sold space was down to 750,000 square foot from 1 million last year and a peak of 1.3 million square feet in 1997 when the show also filled both floors of the nearby Sands Convention Center and well as the ballroom of the Hilton Hotel adjacent to the Las Vegas Convention center.
"I think this year is probably the most difficult with the economy and then 11 September. In the end, this is just a trade show," said Fred Rosen, Chairman of the Key3Media group that organizes Comdex.
Missing also at this year's show were emerging technology trends and key new products. One product that easily tops the list in this class was the "Virtual Keyboard" from Sweden's Senseboard Technologies. The device is designed for users of PDA devices who are also touch typists and who are tired of struggling with tiny, cumbersome, or nonexistent keyboards. Placed in the palm of each hand, the Senseboard's data-entry device lets user to type without an actual keyboard. Just find any flat surface and pretend your entering data on a traditional QWERTY keyboard.
Senseboard's Virtual Keyboard is scheduled for general availability in March 2002.