CES Asia

Lost in translation: CES Asia visitors in Shanghai frustrated by language snags, internet blocks

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 May, 2015, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 May, 2015, 3:33pm

While the inaugural Consumer Electronics Show (CES) Asia went off largely without a hitch in Shanghai this week, some voiced complaints about the dearth of real news being announced at the event, as well as the frustrations of dealing with Chinese internet restrictions.

The Shanghai event is the first time CES, held annually in Las Vegas since 1967, has taken place outside of the US.

"We expect this event to grow and rival the event in Vegas," Gary Shapiro, president and chief executive of show organiser the Consumer Electronics Association, told attendees on Monday. However, some gaffes and oversights took place that presumably would not occur at the more established American event.

During Kirk Skaugen of Intel's keynote address, a Haier executive came on stage to announce the two company's new partnership for wireless charging devices. Wang Ye spoke only in Chinese, with Chinese-language slides. No translation or explanation was given for non-Chinese speakers, leaving many foreign business executives and reporters looking bewildered and frustrated.

Another keynote was listed as being presented in English, but was in fact entirely in Chinese, a fact that did not become fully apparent until IBM's DC Chien was several minutes into his presentation, sending attendees running to the back of the room to collect translation headsets.

This wasn't the only time the event seemed to forget its international attendees. Copies of CEA chief economist Shawn DuBravac's book Digital Destiny were handed out to guests, but it was available only in Chinese.

WATCH: China Consumer Electronics Show disappoints some


"The event may be a subdued first outing that lays the foundation for the future of this mini-CES here in China," CNet's Aloysius Low predicted on Monday.

This largely turned out to be correct, with some complaining about the dearth of important product announcements or partnerships at the event, especially compared to the Vegas show, which over the years has seen the debut of Microsoft's Xbox and the first HDTVs and compact disc players.

Despite Shapiro's pronouncement that exhibitors "had to be truly innovative or have an established brand to exhibit in the show", many items on display on the conference floor were copies of Western technologies.

Others pointed out the dark irony of hosting an internet and technology conference in a country where access to the web is highly restricted.

Nowhere was this more apparent than during Shailesh Rao of Twitter's keynote speech, in which the social media executive completely ignored the fact that his company's service has been blocked in China since 2009.

While other major international conferences have offered unfiltered internet to attendees, such as during the World Internet Conference in Wuzhen last year, the Wi-fi available at CES Asia was filtered, meaning the only way to access the open web was through a virtual private network (VPN), something which has become much more difficult since the beginning of this year.