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CES Asia makes progess in its second year, but has a way to go

CNET's Aloysius Low spent the last three days in Shanghai to take in the sights and sounds of the Asian version of the huge tech trade show.

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With every tech company in the world desperate to break into China, it's no surprise that CES organiser the Consumer Technology Association is trying to make a splash.

Its second CES Asia trade show here in Shanghai is almost over, and it was a big improvement on last year. It's now twice the size, with four halls instead of two, and host to much more interesting tech.

There were plenty of fun products that stood out this time. Take, for example, the Cowa Robot suitcase. It follows you around, avoids obstacles and has built-in GPS that lets it automatically return to you if lost (though you're out of luck if someone steals it).

If electronic suitcases don't excite you, there's the Plen2 robot -- which I found adorable. It comes either preassembled or ready for assembly and can be programmed to do a variety of things, including mirroring your actions through the Microsoft Kinect camera.


The adorable ball-kicking Plen2 robots in action.

Aloysius Low/CNET

But entertaining novelties aside, CES Asia is too China-centric for its own good. And while I did find a sprinkling of vendors from around Asia, the vast majority are Chinese. Given that exhibitors are hoping for local retailers to make orders, that makes sense. If the trade show wants to live up to the CES name, however, it'll have to broaden its cultural appeal. There's a large contingent of overseas visitors here too, and there should be more English material for them.

Even though I (barely) speak the language, there were times when I skipped booths because all the content there was Mandarin-only. Unless the product sold itself, the language gap was often too big for me to invest the time to understand it. I'd bet foreign attendees would have even less of a chance.

Another thing I noticed was vendors repeating announcements from the Las Vegas CES in January. OK, it gives Chinese exhibitors who weren't noticed the first time around a second chance to shine. But that also means there's less to report, which means the trade show, and the products themselves, gain less traction.

The show has great potential. According to numbers revealed by CTA president Gary Shapiro at the CES Asia keynote, China is one of the fastest growing markets in the world, with a $266 billion consumer tech market in 2015 that is expected to grow another 3 percent this year. Furthermore, Asia still has plenty of growth potential, especially in developing markets such as Vietnam and Indonesia.

CES Asia stands as a gateway to these huge markets, and next year will hopefully bring more new, interesting tech and exhibitors. If the CTA can get bigger Chinese vendors to make major announcements, the show is likely to surpass, say, the upcoming Computex show in Taipei.

I'll be here next year to see if that's the case.