Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took the keynote stage last night at the CES and reports of his speech are less than inspiring. Sam Diaz thinks it's time to give the CES kickoff keynote to another company, given Microsoft's inability to inspire attendees of the biggest geekfest in the U.S. Mary Jo Foley believes the most important thing about Ballmer's keynote is what he didn't say, and that's not really the purpose of a big company keynote address. Both of my colleagues are correct that Microsoft is no longer inspiring those who follow the company's mobile offerings; the fact is the folks in Redmond have lost their mobile mojo.
The company had plenty of mojo in the mobile space in years past, and desperately needs to recapture it. It's never been known for having the flash (pun intended) or panache of Apple's mobile tech demonstrations, but over the years Microsoft has repeatedly pushed the envelope with mobile technology that captures the imagination of enthusiasts and consumers alike. It needs to get its mobile mojo back, and soon.
Remember the Handheld PC? This little clamshell computer wasn't sexy or flashy, but it was innovative considering how far ahead of the competition it was at the time. These handheld gadgets put an amazing amount of computing power in the hands of people for the first time. I ran into someone in a coffee shop a year ago who was still using one of these HPCs to report in to the head office from the field. The benefits stood the test of time in real-world use, something not often seen in the mobile space.
Windows Mobile was as good as anything on the market back when Microsoft first released it. The PDAs and later smartphones that ran Windows Mobile were pushing the envelope for mobile devices, which is why WinMo dominated the market for so long. That's the sort of innovation we need to see from Microsoft to help it return to keynote greatness.
The last truly innovative push made by Microsoft in the mobile space was the Origami handheld computer. It was sidelined by the hardware of the time, but it was unique and excited folks as Microsoft products hadn't done in a while. The viral video of the Origami leaked prior to its launch created a huge buzz of interest in both enthusiasts and regular consumers alike. That's mobile mojo at work. It didn't help that Microsoft defused its own buzz and changed the product name to the Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC). Not quite as sexy as Origami.
The ill-fated Microsoft Courier handheld device had the same mojo, and got a lot of press coverage because it raised the bar in the mobile space. It was a gadget unlike any other in the market or in concept, and most importantly it excited people. So Microsoft killed it off before making it a real project. It killed its own mojo.
The days of me-too products in the mobile space are over, the innovators will be the ones who capture our attention and our dollars. The hardware and software is good enough to make products that capture our imagination as never before, and this is what Microsoft desperately needs to produce. Only this will get its mobile mojo back.