Intel just killed one of the biggest trade shows in tech, and I think this could be the beginning of a trend. The idea of trade shows predates the internet and, over time, has become something of an ironic tech industry anachronism. It is ironic because the technology that companies like Intel have pioneered, like on-demand web content, video conferencing, streaming, and virtual reality, should make the need to travel to these events unnecessary. But, apparently, even the industry driving the change has proven reticent in making that change itself. Well, Intel’s CEO Brian Krzanich just called this out and pulled the plug on one of the biggest vendor-driven technology events in the industry, making me wonder how long it will be before other firms respond, and trade shows and developers’ conferences, at least for the tech segment, become a thing of the past.
Let’s talk about the value and opportunity to take the leap away from trade shows and developers’ forums, and into something better.
Trade Shows: Amazon vs. Pressing the Flesh
One of the foundational elements to trade shows is the sales opportunities. Most of them are thinly disguised efforts to sell hardware, software, and services, and I expect these will be the types of shows that will be the slowest to die. This is because there remains a fundamental belief that to move a lot of products, you need face-to-face interaction. Amazon is the counterpoint to this and the supporting example. While Amazon and its service arm AWS have largely operated without direct contact, at scale Amazon’s AWS has its own customer conference, AWS Summit, and apparently, it is doing just fine.
So, at least for the rest of this decade, conferences focused on connecting customers of large systems to vendors are likely to continue to flourish. Those focused on smaller products in volume will likely become harder to justify as online contact methods take their place.
Smaller companies have generally found it better to use services like Indiegogo and Kickstarter (and Amazon itself) to get to customers en masse and, as Amazon has grown, often money spent promoting a product directly has a better chance of growing sales volume than an investment in a show like CES. Many of the larger firms have moved out of that show already and it remains the strongest in the consumer electronics segment.
IDF is more of a developers’ conference than a trade show, though there are sales elements. This is a category I’ve personally struggled with because developers tend to move to platforms where they are likely to find customers or where they have been given incentives. A show the size of IDF uses a lot of resources and if those resources were instead focused on target incentives, you might be able move critical developers to your platform more assuredly.
More important, a show is an event tied in advance to a point in time and often both the information being provided and the needs of the developers aren’t tied to that same time period. This means that shows like this can be both premature and late. A far better way to engage them in a timely way would likely be to push them to online services and co-fund online and traditional educational services (colleges and universities) so the training is more timely and complete.
The irony with developer events is that, typically, the platforms that most need them are those that are emerging, but the related companies normally have neither the funding nor the initial interest with developers to make them work. Once a platform is as well penetrated as Intel’s, the need drops, but the firm can afford the event, creating a weird cart-and-horse dilemma where, if you have both, you may no longer need either.
One other change needs to be pointed out that goes to why Intel is likely the trail blazer here. Virtualization technology that decouples the hardware and the software makes it hard to justify developing directly for the hardware anyway. A smart developer may simply decide to develop for the hypervisor, so justifying developing directly on Intel becomes far more difficult. Even Microsoft has announced it is moving to a hardware platform independent strategy. So, Intel’s money would likely be far better spent assuring it works best with the leading hypervisors because that, not having direct contact with developers, will provide it with the strongest sustained competitive advantage.
Wrapping Up: Changes
Tons of changes are coming to the technology market. An adage says that when faced with massive change, your choices are to lead, follow, get out of the way or die. Yes, I added that last. Apparently, Krzanich has decided to lead. It is a risky strategy, but leading generally is, and Intel has always been a poor follower. The other two choices should be unacceptable to any company of Intel’s size and scope.
Finally, as Intel moves to more and more autonomous systems, there is a real opportunity to showcase interaction with developers using these systems. I expect we’ll see Intel blaze that trail shortly as well. That could be an ideal showcase for Project Alloy. Just saying.
Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm. With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+