> Microsoft CES 2011 Keynote

Microsoft CES 2011 Keynote

Posted on Saturday, January 8, 2011 | No Comments

Exactly the same as last year, after watching Microsoft’s keynote speech/demo from this years CES show I’m left with exactly the same feelings; that Microsoft are still relevant and whilst we don’t always see it as clearly as products that fly off the shelves like those products made by Apple, we have to remember that MS are in a very different market all together.

Listening again to an old podcast from a couple of years again featuring a lengthy interview with Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, I was reminded of a quote from Jobs which basically said “Apple employees forgot that this is a zero-sum game and they thought that for Apple to win Microsoft had to lose”, the point being that this is far from the reality; both companies are never going to ‘win’ or ‘lose’, they simply need to compete and co-exist. It’s important to note that in the early days BillG was contracted out to Apple to write code for them and they worked together on a bunch of projects.

Regardless of the past though, let’s get back to looking at the future. Steve Ballmer touched on three areas of Microsoft in this years keynote and it was interesting to note that these lined up exactly with their 3 screen strategy.

Entertainment – Xbox

The first was the living room, entertainment experience as provided by the Xbox 360 platform and the developments that have been made in this area. The real game-changer here is the Kinect interaction experiences; combining movement, speech and gestures, eliminating the traditional controller and/or remote control.

The Xbox is really developing more and more as that ‘entertainment centre-piece’ rather than a ‘games console’. They’ve done this by pulling together Xbox Live, streaming movies (Netflix), television (Hulu/Sky), sports (ESPN/Sky), video calling and the recently announced “Avatar Kinect”, which allows your friendly digital avatar to move and mimic your exact movements and emotions as if you were in the room with your friends, adding an entirely social layer to the entertainment experience, allowing that interaction to be shared across Facebook and other platforms.

I love what Microsoft are doing in this space, but I do still have concerns – mostly around cost and the stark difference between US and UK services that are currently available. Take for example movies, in the US Netflix is currently way out ahead of everyone else in the streaming movie business. In the UK we don’t have a movie streaming service yet – or certainly not one that’s on the same level as Netflix (LoveFilm is the only one close to having such a service).

But – and here’s my concern – the cost of Netflix is monthly subscription, the cost of Xbox Live is a subscription, the cost of Sky (in the UK), is a subscription and all of these other services that get bolted on all cost money. My fear is that if Xbox makes its way into my living room as the primary device, how much is it ultimately going to cost me per month for the privilege? And why wouldn’t I just have a Sky HD box installed instead of streaming via my Xbox to take advantages of what Sky are offering? Perhaps that thought is for another day and another blog post however.

Microsoft also need to be careful not to confuse the market with too many devices/options either. Are they pushing the Xbox as ‘thee’ device to have in your living room or are they promoting a set top box or a media centre PC as the device to have? I’m a little confused by it, especially as I already have both a media centre PC and an Xbox and have pondered on many occasion where they should be located in my house.

Finally, when Ballmer revealed that MS has so far sold 8 million Kinect devices in two months, this underlines the popularity of both the Xbox and how excited people are about this technology. It’s a staggering figure to have been sold in such a small amount of time.

Mobile – Windows Phone 7

I should be absolutely honest here and say that I’ve not really given Windows Phone 7 any attention thus far – sure I’ve read a couple of early reviews, but I’ve not actively gone and sought anything in depth or any product demonstrations to understand how it actually stacks up. That said, my mobile contact is still valid and I’ve had no reason to seek out this information.

The CES Keynote then is the first time I’ve seen the platform in action and I have to say, it’s peaked my interest a little bit; it’s certainly a different approach to that others are taking, yet seems to continue to mix in the expected elements of what you would find on a modern day smart phone. I have to admit though; I do like the approach MS are taking here, integrating their existing platforms (Xbox Live, Bing, Windows, etc), directly into the handset so it almost becomes that seamless experience between devices.

I’ve not had chance to check this out yet, but if I find the Windows Phone 7 can connect to my Live Mesh and sync in exactly the same way as my laptop and PC are able to, then I may just well be sold on the idea of purchasing a WP7 come March when my current mobile contract expires. There’s a long way between now and then though, HP have WebOS announcements due in February, which may sway me back on track and stick with what I currently have.

Overall though, after what seems like years in the wilderness with Windows Mobile 6/6.5, MS certainly seems to have something they can build upon and compete with in the mobile space.

Desktop – Windows 7

I was both annoyed and absolutely fascinated by this part of the presentation.

First why I was annoyed: the Surface 2.0 computer was unveiled, showing just how far that product has been developed over the course of a single year and I was absolutely taken with just how much it can do and the various applications and scenarios it can be used for – brilliant. But what annoys me and winds me up is that Microsoft hasn’t pushed this device hard enough. I’ve never seen one in the wild yet and I can’t work out why.

Perhaps it is too expensive or maybe still a little bit too much of a gimmick for businesses to invest into right now. I mean, I’d love to see a couple of these at my local cinema showing movie trailers and allowing me to buy my ticket right there and then by swiping my card over the device and I’m sure a bunch of other interactive stuff – and the reason I’m picking on my cinema is because they already have a touch screen device that allows the user to select their film and take payment – a fraction of what they could be doing.

As I say, the main reason may be down to cost (and hard economic times, etc), but Surface is without doubt a technology Microsoft believe in and want out there. But that’s just my opinion.

Where Apple produces software to sell their own hardware, Microsoft produces software to sell – and this is very apparent as you see the variety of Tablet devices that manufactures are lining up which run Windows 7 compared to the single form factor of Apple’s iPad. I very much like the fact that this allows users to purchase a device or form factor that suits their needs – giving the device purpose. I also like that Microsoft haven’t given up on ‘ink’ and the ability to write on the screen is still very much a part of what they want to achieve – there are arguments for and against having a pen over and above finger input, but again, by being receptive to both the customer has the choice when purchasing their ‘ideal’ tablet device.

I’d heard about the rumours Microsoft were considering tweaking Windows to run on ARM processors, but I never really thought much about it and the potential it would have and the implications of System on Chip (SoC), until it was confirmed in the keynote. Then it all made sense – running Windows on chip is exactly what is needed as Microsoft transition (or run in parallel), between full fat, traditional PCs and the next generation of devices and form factors.

When the SoC is shown and you realise how small the architecture can be reduced down to, it highlights just how much potential this move has. Fully blown Windows running on devices the size of your mobile phone, but with all of the optimisation and design built right into it. Power savings suddenly become dramatic; something which is all important as more and more devices become mobile.

As I’ve wrote before, coupling these SoC next-generation devices with Microsoft Cloud platform technologies and suddenly another building block for the future falls into place and the paradigm should potentially shifts from Apple back towards Microsoft. For Microsoft what they have shown over the past 5 years is everything building towards this future vision (that’s where Ray Ozzie really was brilliant with his dream of where he wanted to take MS).

Summary

The ‘three-screen’ strategy that Microsoft envisioned a long time ago is only just starting to come together, perhaps slightly delayed by the Vista years that needed to be fixed, but after learning really quickly what needed to be repaired. But after what seems like a time when Microsoft went quiet, they continued to build the platforms and technologies (Cloud, user interfaces, etc), for the devices we are seeing today and we’re only at the very beginning of all of this.

Repeating myself again, Apple produces software to sell their hardware, Microsoft produce software to sell. Software is a magical thing and these software platforms that have been developed combining Internet, Cloud and new approaches are setting up something really magical for device manufacturers who can do hardware in many new and exciting form factors far better than Microsoft could do alone.

But this isn’t a Microsoft Vs Apple situation, this is about Microsoft building platforms based around the biggest platform of them all; the Cloud, and asking the industry to start to dream and build the devices that Microsoft need to succeed together. I’ve no doubt that Microsoft could do their own hardware if they were forced into doing so, the Xbox is proof of that, but that’s not their style. This is a software company, existing to be a software company and nothing else.

I always get excited when I watch a demo like this and I can clearly see the big picture strategies at play and can realise how what is available today is what the future will be based upon. Microsoft just delivered again.



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