In the financial world, we talk a lot about trends. Trends are pretty fascinating things actually...it's the idea that, given a little know-how of what to look for, you can predict the move of an entire sector of the market. The "know-how" can actually be very, very diverse - anything from watching what raw materials are being purchased to how much money a company is borrowing via bonds or giving out to buy back its stock.
In the computer world, trends are just as important. For those of us who are end users, raw materials or company bonding for R&D aren't as useful. Such things tell us that the companies are doing something, but don't ever really give us a clear indication of what. Instead, we're left looking at what a company chooses to highlight in the public arena. Companies will usually do this via one of two ways - trade shows and press releases.
Of those two methods, trade shows are by far the most important. Many of the products that are shown on the floor of CES or CeBIT are not even ready for market yet, but the company wants to make sure that these gems of next year are showcased. For a lot of people, going to a trade show is a cool way to look at the new toys coming out soon. However, for those of us who know where to look, the trade show provides a two year (overlapping) roadmap for where the industry is moving as a whole.