With its unique and almost sad sense of timing, Microsoft is a no-show at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, the biggest trade show in America. But one has to wonder why the firm has bailed on this event after many years as a headline keynoter: With its new emphasis on devices and services, Microsoft is suddenly a natural fit for CES. (See also, "Steve Ballmer Makes a Surprise Appearance at CES Keynote," January 8, 2013).
It certainly wasn’t such a great fit in the past. Indeed, aside from the Xbox 360, Microsoft’s appearances at previous CES conferences were mostly curious and strange. Each year, the firm would push the few consumer-oriented features in whatever recent version of Windows it was peddling, and of course a decade ago it launched the ill-fated Media Center initiative at the event.
But this year? Microsoft should have been the belle of the ball.
For the first time since 2000, Microsoft is pushing a new version of Windows—Windows 8—that is being marketed exclusively to consumers, embracing a new multi-touch user-experience paradigm that has isolated and even threatened existing customers, especially businesses. It has entered the devices market for the first time with a consumer-only product, Surface with Windows RT. It has made its biggest push yet into digital media with Xbox Music and Xbox Video, services that Microsoft considers so important that it will actually make them available via Apple iPhone and iPad and Android devices. And the company is about to launch its biggest-ever version of Office, one that's decidedly aimed at both consumers and businesses, offering inexpensive ways to utilize the software on multiple PCs and devices—yes, eventually including iPads and Android tablets.
The firm is expected to launch a new Xbox console this year, for crying out loud.
This isn’t your father’s Microsoft, in many ways. And yet, in some ways it is: Despite planning for this amazing consumer launch period for years, Microsoft inexplicably revealed last year that it would no longer appear at CES, an event it had been keynoting since 1998. This year’s keynoter? Qualcomm. Yeah, they’re still a thing.
Given the slow start of Windows 8, Microsoft could have used its CES pulpit to jumpstart interest in the new system and tout both the new software and services capabilities as well as exciting new hardware from its partners.
Not that CES is diminished in any way by Microsoft’s inaction; that diminishment is in fact a one-way street this time. In fact, CES 2013 will be as big, or slightly bigger than, last year’s show. And of course, Microsoft’s partners aren’t ignoring CES. After a lackluster Windows 8 and Windows RT PC and device launch lineup last fall, PC and hardware makers are going to strike back with a second round of hardware that should more closely capture the essence of Microsoft’s new software and, hopefully, resonate more with consumers. (Expect at least a few reports this week about new Windows devices.)
And to be fair, Microsoft, like some of its partners—such as Lenovo, which will announce sweeping new lines of Windows 8-based devices this week—will of course be at CES unofficially, despite its absence from the show floor and the opening keynote. It is planning private meetings and will support some key partners who are at the show. “We will continue to participate in CES as a way to connect with the industry and our partners, as many key hardware and software partners use the show for specific news moments, and we will certainly work with them as appropriate,” a Microsoft statement notes.
That’s no way to push Windows 8 and Surface, Microsoft.
Learn more about CES 2013 from Jason Bovberg's article "20 Windows 8 Devices that Wowed the Crowds at CES."