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A tale of two trade shows

CES and Macworld compete for attention in a rare scheduling overlap that is causing divided loyalties in the tech industry. Photos: On the scene at Macworld

If there's a silver lining to the scheduling overlap between the Consumer Electronics Show and Macworld this year, it's that many people no longer have to go to both.

"We're kind of glad," said Amy Cesari, a spokeswoman for iPod accessory maker Speck Products. In the past few years, Speck Products has spent four days in Las Vegas for CES, then packed up and headed north for another four days of Macworld in San Francisco. But this year, Speck is splitting up its efforts to hit both shows at the same time, relieving Cesari of yet another early January trip to the desert.

The tech industry is being forced to divide its attention between Las Vegas and San Francisco this week. CES got rolling on Sunday with a speech from Microsoft's Bill Gates, while his nemesis Steve Jobs will appear on stage at Macworld at 9 a.m. in San Francisco on Tuesday.

From an attendance standpoint, there's little question that CES, which hosts big tech names ranging from Sony to IBM and an estimated 150,000 attendees, is the bigger draw; Macworld is expected to have more than 40,000 attendees. But when it comes to attention-grabbing announcements, few are better at it than Jobs at Macworld, which can be equal parts trade show, rock concert and a revival meeting of the Apple faithful.

"All the water-cooler talk here tomorrow will be about the Apple keynote," said Samir Bhavnani, an analyst with Current Analysis attending CES. It's safe to say that more than a few thoughts at CES on Tuesday will be in San Francisco. CNET plans to broadcast live coverage of Jobs' speech to CES attendees at its booth in the lobby of the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

"All the water-cooler talk here tomorrow will be about the Apple keynote."
--Samir Bhavnani, an analyst with Current Analysis attending CES

The two events overlap for the first time in five years. CES has generally fallen during the week prior to Macworld, but the Consumer Electronics Association moved the show for 2007, citing its contract with the Las Vegas Convention Center. This has forced many tech companies and analysts used to spending a few days in Las Vegas followed by a few days in San Francisco to choose between the two.

For tech industry veterans like Roger Kay, there's simply no choice. With dozens of tech industry clients all in Las Vegas for CES, it's possible to catch up with older clients while prospecting for new ones, said Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates. Virtually every major company in the PC and consumer electronics industry is making some sort of appearance at CES, from big flashy technology demonstrations on the show floor to quiet briefing sessions in luxurious hotel suites along the Las Vegas Strip.

"Virtually everyone is here," Kay said of CES. Even companies that don't have consumer electronics businesses, , are taking advantage of the concentration of media, analysts and prospective business partners in Las Vegas this week.

New box can link to five computers, creating a hub for the digital living room.

But with Macworld, there is typically a great deal of attention paid by the public and the industry to what Jobs has to show off. Last year, he unveiled Apple's first Macs using Intel's chips, and in the past has used the event to highlight new iPods such as 2005's Shuffle.

So if you're a tech company torn between two conferences, what do you do? One factor that has helped companies decide who goes to Las Vegas and who goes to San Francisco is the type of customer present at each show. CES is much more industry-focused than Macworld, Speck Products' Cesari said. CES is about cutting deals with distributors and retailers, while Macworld is about showcasing products in front of consumers, she said. Speck Products is sending its sales teams to CES and its marketing folks to Macworld, she said.

Belkin, which makes dozens of iPod accessories along with a wide variety of other consumer electronics, will have people shuttling back and forth between San Francisco and Las Vegas over the course of the week, said Melody Chalaban, a Belkin spokeswoman. The company also extended an invitation to employees who don't normally work in promotion to come help staff Belkin's booth at the shows, she said.

And while CES is the place to be for tech's heavy hitters early in the week, many are expected to fly up to San Francisco for Jobs' speech. One important partner, Intel CEO Paul Otellini, is expected to watch Jobs' keynote in person, though a company representative declined to confirm his attendance.

What will CES have to compete with Jobs on Tuesday morning? Michael Dell plans to take the keynote stage at the Venetian Hotel at the exact same time Jobs is scheduled to appear at Macworld. The two executives, each almost synonymous with the growth of the personal computer, will be competing for more than market share as they fight for attention during a week already crowded with information.

The conference competition won't happen next year. CES 2008 is scheduled for January 7 through 10, while Macworld will return to San Francisco from January 14 to 18. That means for most of the tech world, it's back to a regularly scheduled January of heavy travel up and down the West Coast.