Image: Speaker dock for iPods
Ethan Miller  /  Getty Images
The Vestalife Mantis, a speaker dock for Apple iPods, is displayed at CES in Las Vegas. While Apple is not represented at the trade fair, its influence is evident.
By
msnbc.com
updated 1/5/2010 8:13:27 PM ET 2010-01-06T01:13:27

While Apple isn't participating — and never has — in the annual Consumer Electronics Show, the company's presence has long loomed over it. That's no different this year, with non-stop buzz about an Apple tablet possibly being announced later this month. What is different is that Apple-related products are being given their own showcase at CES, a first for the world's largest trade show for consumer technology.

Considering Apple's influence in the world of personal technology, it may seem like a "no duh" and years overdue. But historically, Apple took part in the annual Macworld conference, generally held around the same time as CES, often stealing its thunder with new product announcements, from the iPhone to iPods.

This year, Apple is not participating in Macworld, but the Consumer Electronics Association, sponsor of CES, is providing an "iLounge Pavilion," where more than 100 exhibitors will be showing iPhone, iPod and Mac-related wares.

Also, one of the events at the Las Vegas show is a "Mobile Apps Showdown," a competition that whether intentionally or not, acknowledges Apple's role in the cell phone "app," or application, market. The company's online "App Store" for the iPhone, started 18 months ago, now has more than 100,000 programs available to consumers.

Apps: 'Man of the year'?
With its App Store, Apple has not only set the standard for mobile phone programs — Research In Motion followed suit with an App World for BlackBerrys, Google began the Android Market, and Palm launched an App Catalog — but the concept is starting to gravitate to other areas, including automobiles. Some of those new apps are being shared at CES as well.

"Certainly the 'man of the year' for 2009 could easily be the app," said Shawn DuBravac, director of research for the Consumer Electronics Association. "It was a big theme in 2009 and it will continue into this year."

The iLounge Pavilion, co-sponsored by iLounge.com, started out last spring as a 4,000-square-foot exhibit space, but quickly expanded to 25,000 square feet to accommodate manufacturers and retailers.

"There’s always been Apple-related items on the show floor; this is the first time we gave it its own dedicated show floor space, and it has been phenomenally successful," DuBravac said.

"Even though Apple doesn’t play with CES, CES companies continue to build and showcase things that work with Apple products," said technology consultant Rob Enderle.

"In the end, I think it really showcases that the iPhone and iPod are big enough to warrant a show-within-a-show approach to showcasing accessories. When it comes to personal media players, Apple is the market at the moment."

'Reaching out'
Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis for The NPD Group research firm, said the iLounge Pavilion is not only a first for CES, but "the first time CES is reaching out specifically to companies making Mac and iPhone products.

"This is less of a nod to Apple’s role in consumer electronics per se, and more of an opportunistic attempt to capitalize on Apple’s decision not to exhibit at Macworld Expo this year or in the future, which will certainly hurt the appeal of that trade show that has traditionally occurred around the time of CES," Rubin said.

This year, Macworld will be Feb. 9-13 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.

Apple's decision to pull out of the show surprised many who looked forward to the new product announcements made by CEO Steve Jobs, the traditional keynote speaker for the event. Last year, Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller assumed that role.

The company said in a press release last year that "trade shows have become a very minor part of how Apple reaches its customers," and that Apple "has been steadily scaling back on trade shows in recent years," including other Macworld events in New York and Tokyo.

No one from Apple is scheduled to speak at the Consumer Electronics Show, where the keynote speaker regularly was former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, and in the past two years, current company CEO Steve Ballmer. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

"Certainly Apple is invited to CES; they’re an active member of CEA, involved in a lot of the that things we do," said DuBravac. "This year, they opted not to be an exhibitor, and they haven't exhibited in the past, so it's not a change in plans for them at all.

"Each company makes decisions based upon their strategies and what makes sense for them."

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