I went to the latest incarnation of the Embedded Systems Conference, now #EELive. This was, at one time my favorite trade show because of its diversity. This reboot, the third in five years, was more diverse, but that seems to be working against it now. It has seven distinct tracks : embedded systems, internet of things, FPGA, security, hardware startups, Android development and C++ development. None of it seemingly attracting the core audience or engineers, however, because there were not many people there. At least not as many as there use to be.
I’m sure I’m going to get push back on this with lots of people (especially from UBM) saying the sessions were packed with people, and I'm sure they were. But here are some observations.
- Exhibit participation. For the past five years the conference has filled up all three exhibition halls at the McEnery Center and I remember they had a mammoth tent outside for a couple of years to handle overflow. This year the exhibition was limited to two halls.
- Parking. I was busting my butt to get down to the conference before 9 a.m. on Tuesday because my experience told me that any later and I would be relegated to tertiary parking. Since it was raining I didn’t want to schlep a half mile to the convention center. I got there at 9:30 and, was surprised to find parking in the covered lot inside the center. LOTS of parking. When I left at 3, there was still plenty of space. Wednesday was better weather so I thought I’d save a couple of bucks and park outside. I was surprised I could get into the secondary parking across the street. The lot was practically empty and when I left at 2 it was still half full. I cannot remember a time at ESC when I could find convenient parking at the convention center after 10 a.m.
- Session attendance. Yes, UBM was widely tweeting about “standing room only” at the keynotes with pictures of people near the back standing up. If their photographer had pushed just past the second row of back-standers, he would have seen the back of my head with three empty rows behind me and two almost empty rows in front of me. Lots of audience members came in late, checked their email for five minutes, listened for five minutes, and escaped out the back door. It’s too bad because on Wednesday, Bunnie Huang had a great talk about how electronic component recycling is going to bring back DIY electronics and kill the semi industry as we know it.
- Exhibitor happiness. There was none. In three interviews and a doezen other discussions at exhibits was the same refrain: “We are paying more for exhibit space every year and seeing the exact same leads as we did last year. We will have to find something new.”
UBM will deny this, but under their current business model, they really don’t care. If an industry they support won’t pay what they ask, they will just switch to another industry that will. Right now, Interop and the Game Developer Conference are the big winners and are gutting the attention of the UBM hierarchy. Case in point: this was the first year I can remember that I didn’t have a chat with UBM CEO Paul Miller at ESC/DesignWest/EELive/Etc because he was not there.
ESC used to happen three times a year. Then it was ESC East and West. Then it was Design West. Now it’s EELive. Next year, who knows. So, what is the problem? Vision… or the lack thereof. And that's not necessarily the show's problem.
More to come.