When Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took the stage at the Consumer Electronics Show Jan. 6, the tech world was expecting something major. Earlier in the day, reports were swirling that Ballmer would beat Apple to the punch and talk about tablet PCs. It was also believed that he would talk about the future of Windows 7, Windows Mobile 7 and much more. Expectations were high. But for the most part, Ballmer disappointed.
He had the opportunity to set the pace for the tech industry in 2010. He could have come on stage, given details on new and exciting products, and fired a few shots over Apple’s bow. Instead, he spent far too long discussing things that too many consumers don’t care about and not long enough on those topics that they do want to learn more about. There was no charisma in Ballmer’s keynote. The CEO provided the press with very little to take away. And in the end he left the door wide open for Steve Jobs to swoop in and save the day at the end of the month.
Let’s look at the various reasons why Microsoft disappointed at CES.
1. Where’s Windows Mobile 7?
Ballmer took the stage on Jan. 6 ready to discuss several divisions within his company. He did. But he failed to bring up one of the most important topics of all: Windows Mobile 7. Microsoft’s mobile division is in serious trouble. It’s trailing far behind the competition and the longer Windows Mobile 6.5 carries that division’s banner, the worse it will get. Ballmer had the platform to build hype for Windows Mobile 7. He didn’t use it.
2. The ‘slate’ debacle
Rumors were swirling prior to the keynote that Ballmer would talk about slate computers. And although he did touch on them for a while, it was an all-around poor discussion. He simply pointed to three products that feature slate technology and demoed the Hewlett-Packard device. But most saw it for what it is: a product that’s too big for a pocket and too underpowered to get real work done. So far, Windows slates are nice-looking, but seem to lack real utility.
3. The boredom
Ballmer’s keynote was a bore. He spent far too long talking about Microsoft’s performance and not enough time demoing new products that consumers and enterprise customers would really care about. It’s unfortunate. Jobs rarely goes on stage and disappoints. For well over an hour, Ballmer did just that.
4. ‘Project Natal‘
“Project Natal” could be a groundbreaking product in the gaming industry. The device basically turns the user into a controller. It was discussed during the keynote, but details were slim. For now, we know that it will be coming out by the end of 2010. We still don’t know how much it will cost, how integrated it will be with games or which games will support it. We need more details.
Ballmer Keynote Fails to Excite
5. Nominal upgrades galore
Just about every announcement Ballmer made during his keynote involved relatively minor product upgrades. For example, Microsoft talked about Bing Maps and the new features that will work with the service’s Streetside feature. Some might like to add a snowflake effect to Streetside, but the fact that that option even made its way into the keynote tells you what happened on Jan. 6. There was simply nothing revolutionary that would get users excited.
6. Iterative PC updates
Microsoft also spent an inordinate amount of time talking about all the different PC options available to customers. Ballmer and a sidekick showed off desktops, notebooks and netbooks. But a quick glance at those devices reveals a serious problem for Microsoft and the entire Windows ecosystem: There’s little innovation in PC design. The notebooks looked just like notebooks of old. The desktops, while featuring touch technology, still perform the same basic functions. In other words, they’re boring. And they lack an aesthetic that can match anything from Apple.
7. The Google competition
Ballmer had the opportunity during his keynote to share just how Microsoft plans to compete with Google in 2010. Instead, he said Bing would be the default search engine in HP computers and provided a few more details on the service. It’s not enough. He didn’t talk about future improvements to Bing that would push search forward. He even failed to talk about its online advertising efforts. Microsoft might have plans, but so far, no one knows what they are.
8. Windows 7 talk
Ballmer spent considerable time discussing the value Windows 7 has already provided to customers. He even talked about sales figures. But he spent all that time without discussing any improvements to the platform. How will multitouch play into Microsoft’s strategy? Will it improve Windows 7 Starter Edition? When will Service Pack 1 hit the market? What will be in it? We were left with more questions about Windows 7 than answers.
9. Where’s Courier?
Prior to the keynote address, there were rumors swirling that Microsoft would announce its own brand of slate PC, called the Courier. It didn’t happen. Instead, Ballmer spent time showing off products from third-party vendors. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Microsoft won’t be releasing Courier or something like it in the future, but it was disappointing to see that the company doesn’t have a product to take on Apple with.
10. The Microsoft excitement is gone
Going into 2010, some folks (including myself) were excited to see what Microsoft was preparing for the new year. It seemed at the end of 2009 that the software giant was finally realizing what it needed to do to dominate in an increasingly competitive market. But after the keynote address, it’s clear that Microsoft hasn’t changed nearly as much as some might have liked. There was nothing announced at the keynote that will drastically change Microsoft’s ability to confront threats in the marketplace.
All in all, it was a lackluster showing for Ballmer and company at CES this year.