Saturday, January 9, 2010

Time to boot Microsoft from the opening keynote slot at the Consumer Electronics Show

The producers of the Consumer Electronics Show should give serious consideration to awarding their high-profile opening night keynote speech next year to a company other than Microsoft.
Microsoft has had that slot for many years at the annual trade show. It made sense when the speech was given by Microsoft co-founder and visionary Bill Gates, one of only a handful of rock stars in the tech business. But he’s since retired from daily operations at the company to focus on his philanthropic work.
For two years in a row, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has given the speech. Ballmer is a powerful business figure, but he doesn’t have the iconic status that Gates does.
Microsoft’s keynote on Wednesday was a lackluster affair, highlighted more by taped comedy bits from “Saturday Night Live” comic Seth Meyers than by killer products or concepts.
The tech world just doesn’t revolve around Microsoft like it used to.
Compare Microsoft’s keynote with those of Intel CEO Paul Otellini and Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs at this year’s CES, which ends Sunday. Intel and Qualcomm showed how they are creating platforms and enabling technologies from which many other companies can benefit.
And those Intel and Qualcomm technologies nailed all the hot technologies at the 2010 CES: netbooks, web tablets, e-readers, smart phones, 3D TV and mobile digital TV. They paraded a host of new products and partner companies out on stage with them.
Intel and Qualcomm each demonstrated how they are creating ecosystems around their technologies that could drive the consumer electronics industry forward.
Microsoft offered little to excite attendees this year.
Its biggest announcement was an exclusive deal with Hewlett-Packard where Microsoft’s Bing will be the default search engine on new HP PCs and Microsoft’s MSN will be the default web homepage.
Ballmer teased the audience with a slate PC prototype from HP, but didn’t offer specifics or conduct an in-depth demo.
Microsoft also disclosed holiday 2010 availability for its previously announced Project Natal motion-detecting, controller-free interface for the Xbox video game console. But no pricing was revealed and no new demo offered. (Its original demo of Natal last June wowed the crowd at the E3 video game show in Los Angeles. They’re probably saving the next demo for E3 2010.)
Ballmer discussed the success of Windows 7, Microsoft’s latest PC operating system, released in October. But that’s nothing new or surprising.
In hindsight, a much better choice for the opening keynote would have been Google CEO Eric Schmidt and/or co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin.
Google is rocking the consumer electronics world now with its Android operating system for smart phones and web tablets, its Chrome OS for PCs and its innovation around web software. Plus, it’s grabbing headlines for its massive book digitization project and the growth of its YouTube video website.
Microsoft is a powerful company and a big exhibitor at CES, so they might not take kindly to losing the kickoff keynote.
But CES organizers need to choose keynoters from companies having the most impact on consumer electronics today. Being able to generate excitement among attendees is an important consideration as well.

Photo: Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer demonstrates a Hewlett-Packard slate computer prototype Wed. Jan. 6, 2010, at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (Photo by Microsoft.)

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