With COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, forcing us all to adapt to a new reality of social distancing and remote work, it has even broader implications on businesses and industry. The virus is affecting how we gather to share information, make sales, network, and learn new skills as it spreads throughout the country, basically putting an end to the tech/trade show industry as we know it.
Trade shows and tech conferences have fallen victim to travel restrictions and social distancing. It started back in February when the Mobile World Congress smartphone trade show in Barcelona was canceled after some major companies announced they would not be attending. More and more big brands pulled out as companies became fearful of asking their teams to travel. Facebook canceled its annual F8 developer conference and shortly after that, Austin’s SXSW tech and music conference was canceled.
One by one, annual events like Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference and Microsoft Build were transformed into virtual events, while other companies chose to either postpone or cancel their planned conferences.
With the CDC’s social distancing guidelines in place, even though some of the virtual conferences will go on, attendees will lose the networking aspect, the literal face time with customers and colleagues and hands-on time for developers.
Avi Greengart, President and Lead Analyst at Techsponential says networking is a key reason many people attend these huge conferences.
“There is real value in collecting together large numbers of vendors, buyers, press, and analysts in one place. Developer conferences are about more than watching presentations, they’re about networking, hands-on code workshops, and being able to get specific questions answered. (And T-shirts.) You don’t get any of that from online events.”
Mark Vena, senior analyst at Moor Insights and Strategies agrees. “By and large, if you look at the surveys, what people most values at show likes CES and other trade shows like it is really the networking. I get a chance to go to one place and meet with all my customers. It’s actually saving me money because rather than going to 20 different cities to see 20 different venues, I can see all my customers in one major location.”
No one really knows what the future holds for these conferences, a lot depends on how long it takes before travel restrictions are eased and when people will feel comfortable being in close proximity to others, once social distancing is no longer required. In the meantime, there are virtual conferences, and this could be their time to shine.
“Large developer events already had significant online segments, from keynotes to breakout sessions,” says Greengart, “and that may accelerate if Apple’s upcoming online-only WWDC is a success.”
Will the trade show as we know it go away? Analysts don’t think so, but it’s possible tech conferences may evolve in some ways.
“I really think this is going to have very lasting effects and you’re going to find that some companies might say we have to spend $5 million every year, it’s part of the marketing budget, they might find that they can spend that $5 million in a different way.” Vena says, “they still may have a trade show presence, but maybe they’ll do something in a much smaller format.”
We’ll call out some of the more prominent events below and if there’s an industry conference you were hoping to attend, either in person or virtual, you can check its status on the running list over at techmeme.
Apple announced it will host its annual Worldwide Developers Conference in June in an entirely new online format. According to Apple, “the online event will be an opportunity for millions of creative and innovative developers to get early access to the future of iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS, and engage with Apple engineers as they work to build app experiences that enrich the lives of Apple customers around the globe.”
Microsoft announced the Build show will go on in a virtual way, in the same mid-May time slot. that the regular conference was planned.
“We will deliver our annual Microsoft Build conference for developers as a digital experience, in lieu of an in-person event. We look forward to bringing together our community of developers in this new digital format to learn, connect, and code together. Stay tuned for more details to come.”
Google I/O, the tech company's biggest event of the year where new products are launched, is canceled. “Out of concern for the health and safety of our developers,
employees, and local communities — and in line with recent “shelter in place” orders by the local Bay Area counties — we sadly will not be holding I/O in any capacity this year.”
E3, the biggest gaming event of the year that takes place every June, is canceled. E3, on it’s site, says some of the gaming companies will hold their own online events. “We’re exploring options with our members to coordinate an online experience to showcase industry announcements and news in June 2020.”
The annual Google Cloud conference has been postponed, according to Google. “Please know that we are fully committed to bringing Google Cloud Next ‘20: Digital Connect to life but will hold the event when the timing is right. We will share the new date when we have a better sense of the evolving situation.”
Dell originally moved its Dell Technologies World conference online but has now postponed it as well. Instead of the original May 4-7 timeframe, it’s been pushed back to October. “In these fluid times, it is clear each day – is different. Our customers, partners and teams are all balancing the many dynamics of our new normal.
Three weeks ago, with the information we had at the time, we made the decision to take Dell Technologies World virtual. Much has changed in those three weeks, and it’s clear to us that we need to stay focused on supporting our customers and partners with their most immediate needs.
With that in mind, we’ve rescheduled our Dell Technologies World virtual experience to October 2020.”