I think it's time for the Consumer Electronics Association to cut Microsoft loose and bring in a real innovator to deliver the opening keynote speech at CES.
Last night's on-stage presentation by CEO Steve Ballmer and crew was, quite frankly, embarrassing. The company didn't have any real news to share, aside from some talking avatars, Kinect technology in a Netflix app and an update to Microsoft Surface. And they insulted the intelligence of those in attendance by trying to mask a keynote speech with highlights from the past year.
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I don't mean to take away the company's accomplishments around XBox and the new Kinect offering. Certainly, if there's a bright spot in Redmond, it's shining over the Xbox team. The device continues to deliver cutting edge technology and is growing beyond a gaming console and into a true living room entertainment hub.
But the time devoted to what you could do with Windows Phone 7 came across as very infomercial, more like a marketing campaign or sales pitch. The only thing that made it worse was how obvious it was that the company is still trying to catch up to Android and iPnone.
That's not necessarily a bad thing - Android and iPhone are the ones to beat and you can't beat 'em until you catch up to them. But is that really how anyone wants to kick off the biggest technology show of the year? With a recap of the past and a sales pitch for a " me too" product?
Earlier in the day, I attended Cisco's press conference - which was less press conference and more keynote. John Chambers got up on that stage and talked about revolutionizing television, a biggie in consumer technology. He talked about partners leveraging their technologies to come together and drive a new innovative ecosystem that would benefit both the consumer and the industry. He spoke with energy and passion and a can-do attitude that represents the innovative spirit that helped CES to become the granddaddy of tech trade shows.
Motorola highlighted breakhroughs in mobile technology and advancements in tablet computing, while Intel talked up chip technology game-changers that would deliver new experiences in video. Nvidia and LG showcased the world's first "super phone" while Samsung introduced a sliding PC - a laptop-netbook hybrid that it sees as a new computing category.
And Microsoft is over here patting it self on the back because it will soon offer the cut-and-paste feature with a Windows Phone 7 update?
Listen, I'm not trying to diminish what it's been able to do with technology, as well as what it has in the pipeline. For example, the company offered a peek at Surface 2.0 and showed off an early build of Windows 8 running on new systems-on-a-chip (SoC) platforms from NVIDIA, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments on ARM.
Likewise, this is nothing personal against Ballmer, who actually has very good stage presence. I'm not a big fan of Ballmer, the CEO, because I don't feel that he's leading the company in the right direction - but that's another post for another time.
Previous coverage: Ballmer lands keynote at CES 2011 but can he make it to January?
What I'm saying is that the opening keynote speech sets the tone for the annual Consumer Electronics Show and Microsoft just isn't cutting it anymore. Let's get Google's Eric Schmidt or Cisco's John Chambers or even Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg on that stage to light a fire under that crowd, to get them excited about what the future of technology has in store for us and what they'll see in Las Vegas this week.
I hope that Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, is listening. There are a lot of smaller-scale tech shows out there these days and many of them are putting the movers and shakers of Silicon Valley in the spotlight and on the hot seat. If CES wants to retain its position as a must-attend show, it's going to have to work harder at setting the tone on opening night.
The first step is to cut Microsoft loose.