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Home / Technology / Google’s annual show at CES is no more, with technical shows running virtually

Google’s annual show at CES is no more, with technical shows running virtually



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Google installed an actual tour of its booth in 2019.

James Martin / CNET

This story is part of CES, where our editorial staff will give you the latest news and the hottest facilities for the completely virtual CES 2021

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One of the biggest disappointments from CES 2021 goes virtual will be the lack of a splashy booth by Google. Whether or not you cared about the company’s amount of Google Assistant-related announcements, it was hard to deny the stage play used by the technology giant.

In recent years, Google has boasted some of the most eye-catching CES stalls, from one theme park chalk in 2019 to one escape room back in the January show. Unlike other CES-heavy hitters, such as Samsung or LG, Google chose to place its typically massive “activations” in the parking lot in front of the Las Vegas Convention Center, which suddenly made it a trendy place to place a trade show.

Google’s stalls greatly pushed the benefits of Google Assistant, emphasizing the importance of the digital assistant as it climbed to regain market share from Amazon’s Alexa, which had an edge in the area thanks to Amazon’s range of Echo speakers. In fact, Google and its assistant was part of a battle for digital assistants on previous CES show, with extravagant stalls and with partners announcing that their respective assistants would be built into a new TV, car or other gadget.

But when CES goes virtual, a step is dictated by what’s going on coronavirus pandemic, many of the show’s biggest names choose to skip the show. Google will hold partner meetings, but it will not have a large presence on the show, according to a spokesman. It’s not alone – The Consumer Technology Association said they expect around 1,000 exhibitors at the virtual exhibition, less than a quarter of the total from the January confectionery.

As a reminder of what you’re missing, here’s a look back at some of the previous Google exhibits.

2020: Google’s escape room

The company try to market their digital assistant probably peaked in January during CES 2020, with an escape room where the only way to get out was to hire Google Assistant (talk about an audience in captivity). Google made its presence felt earlier this year in the parking lots of the Vegas Convention Center with a two-story funhouse that drew long lines throughout the week.

Google Booth CES 2020

Google “caught” its guests and demanded that they use Google Assistant to get out.

James Martin / CNET

This was the escape room prerequisite: You meet investors (how Silicon Valley) for dinner, and they want you to serve a specific dish: bacon and Brussels burrata di bufala risotto burritos. You make the day with Google Assistant to help you navigate the market, preheat the oven and turn on music for dinner.

You could not accuse Google of calling it in. Part of the experience included being in a car to use Assistant.

2019: The theme park tour

This was a favorite moment of Google’s commitment to CES. In a show known for crazy attractions – BMW had taken riders on a driving experience in the same parking lot just a year earlier – Google may have topped everyone by bring their own version of “It’s a Small World” using a heavy-in-the-cheek theme.

Google took it too seriously. The PA system welcomed riders by noting that the gimmick was “part ride, part marketing stunt, let’s be honest with ourselves.” But the fun ride had a serious point to make with Google Assistant’s interpreter mode, which was announced when the show opened.

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Google went out with the setup in 2019.

James Martin / CNET

This was also the year Google really made its presence known, plastering “Hey Google” – one of the assistant’s trigger phrases – all over Las Vegas, including near one of the main entrances to the convention center and on the monorail that connects the arena to many of the Strip’s casinos.

At the show, Google announced a number of offerings, including a new smartwatch produced by Lenovo and a new platform that aims to make it easier for device manufacturers to add the assistant to their gadgets.

2018: A playground with three floors

Google just got started with its huge stalls. This included several rooms showing different devices powered by Google Assistant, and was truncated with a twisting slide from the third story. It seems charming now, next to the theme park chalk, but then the wave on the show.

In a bit of a meta-touch, the giant fair itself included a bunch of smaller, mini-stalls: telephone booths became mini-art projects that each showcased the Google Assistant capability, from playing music to asking questions about trivia.

This marked the first major year for Google at the show.

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Google’s trade show in 2018 was a lot of fun house, partly pitch for assistant.

Sarah Tew / CNET

2017: Lots of news, presence with less key

You can reduce Google a bit to put relatively low on this show. This was the first CES since Google unveiled its Google Home smart speaker, the first device to house Google Assistant. Instead of offering a big show, Google put partnership announcements at the center, proving that there was momentum for Amazon’s Alexa. Businesses included Belkin, Hyundai, Chrysler and Nvidia all offered assistant support.


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Google Assistant was more of a curiosity and a project back then. Now that it’s far more widespread – built into Android phones, as well as the increasingly popular series of smart speakers. The digital assistant is a more serious player. Had CES been a physical event (which in this environment would have been a terrible idea), Google would probably have pulled off another sensational setup.

We have to wait until CES 2021 to see what Google has up its sleeve.


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