Imagine if the lifelike experience from gaming was created for electronics industry and events. Maybe there would be much greater value for attendees...
If you ask me what has changed the most for me in 2020, there is one thing that’s head and shoulders above everything: the elimination of travel.
The main reason for people in my profession to travel is to attend conferences so that we can report on the latest industry trends and developments, visit companies when they have something to demonstrate, and learn more about product or business announcements at press briefings.
This year, before the first lockdown in March, I’d attended CES in Las Vegas; HiPEAC, the High Performance and Embedded Architecture and Compilation conference, in Bologna, Italy; and embedded world in Nuremberg, Germany. In between, there were many press briefings, mostly in London.
When you go to conferences, you hardly sleep. During the day, you attend talks and scheduled meetings, and you bump into people — often completely serendipitously — with whom you have impromptu conversations and briefings. At night, you start writing the stories. Then you do it all again the next day. When events started going virtual — first press briefings, then conferences — it seemed like a godsend at first: We no longer had to travel but were able to obtain the same information. We were getting a bit of our time back.
To start with, the virtual events seemed just lie PowerPoint on steroids, but then they started improving. The first ones that made an impression on me were a Teledyne e2v press briefing in Grenoble, France, and the Inside Quantum Computing conference in New York. When the online content started getting better, I started noticing other gremlins, like the TSMC European press day: nothing wrong with the content, but a couple of “veteran” journalists (I was of them) found the login process very clunky, and the entire audience heard one of us swear as we tried to get in.
But the idea that we were getting our time back, now that we were spared the rigors of travel, proved to be an illusion. Because everything was now virtual, we just started packing more and more into a day, one event after another. Back-to-back briefings, embargoed press briefings — we were juggling more per week than we ever would have handled if we’d had to show up in person. There was so much information to process that it’s a wonder our heads didn’t explode.
I admit that the events have gotten much slicker over time, and we have become smarter at managing the volume. I especially enjoy many of the roundtable briefings, which involve a small number of executives. I think I gleaned quite a lot from the electronica 2020 CEO roundtable. It would have been even better if it had been interactive.
At AspenCore Media, we have also delivered virtual events, and we’ve gotten better at them as we’ve done more of them. In particular, the keynotes at our embedded forum and power electronics forum, held during electronica, turned out to be quite interactive; the question-and-answer sessions made it feel almost as if we were there in person, engaging both with the audience and with the speakers.
There’s also the aspect of necessity being the mother of invention, or innovation. When asked to deliver a video interview to an event in China for the “Silicon 100” report created by AspenCore earlier this year, on a tight deadline, we quickly found a solution. The engineer in me found some attachments and Bluetooth accessories online for my smartphone that enabled me to create a professional studio in my home, all for just a few pounds. It’s really amazing what’s possible for a modest outlay of time and money.
So, what does any of this have to do with the headline I chose for this article? As the CEOs at the electronica roundtable said, even after the restrictions imposed as a result of Covid-19 go away, there will be no wholesale return to all the old norms. Travel is one aspect of business that is likely forever changed. Companies and staff have become used to handling meetings more effectively, and collaborating with teams around the world, without having everyone in the same physical place.
But in a world of virtual meetings and events, there is still something missing. In my view, virtual platforms can get you maybe 80% of what you need. Often, the sparks for new ideas or innovations come those serendipitous conversations in conference halls and office corridors. For me, the centralized venue and compressed time frame of a conference, with multiple stakeholders gathered in the same place, encourage those impromptu, insightful conversations that give me a clear picture of what’s really going on. And there’s real value in a hands-on demo, with explanations of key technology breakthroughs from a product manager or engineer.
Having attended some virtual exhibitions, I’ve found them to be very ’80s: Click on a PDF on the virtual booth for more information, or on a link that takes you to a video. Contrast this with the lifelike experiences the gaming industry has enabled. Games like SimCity and virtual worlds like Second Life have created virtual experiences that border on real ones for gamers. Advanced games on PlayStation and Xbox create lifelike experiences within all kinds of environments.
Now, imagine if that lifelike experience was created for electronica, embedded world, or CES. Maybe there would be much greater value for attendees, as you could potentially interact with avatars or real images of people superimposed onto the virtual booths and conferences. Maybe the technology business-to-business world needs to learn from the consumer gaming world — and give us some real experiences at all those virtual meetings, conferences, and briefings.