The CES Keynote yawn: is it Ballmer or is it Microsoft?

By Kip Kniskern | Posted January 6, 2011 34 comments

The early returns are filtering in, and our personal first impressions, along with others from around the web, were, shall we say, underwhelming.  Nick Eaton at the Seattle PI, for one, was left wanting:

What we don’t know is why Microsoft is still opening CES. It announced some updates. It announced some projects. It talked about existing products. Yes, Kinect is going gangbusters — but Microsoft did not put on a consumer-electronics show tonight.

and Larry Dignan at ZDNet echoes the sentiment:

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.

ballmer-kinectTo recap, Microsoft began strong by showing off the latest from Xbox, including some nice Kinect sales numbers, Avatar Kinect, and Kinect-driven Netflix, but the anticipation of either new functionality for the Xbox to provide Google/Apple TV type all-in-one connected TV experiences, or as had been rumored, a new set top box powered by Microsoft to do the same thing, failed to materialize.

(photo credit Damien Koh, CNET Asia)

And indeed there’s quite a little tizzy going on right now on the blogs and on Twitter about the meaning of Microsoft’s announced “8 million Kinects sold” figure.  Dina Bass clarified from Microsoft that those numbers were “sold in” to the retail channel, not “sold through” to consumers.  Here’s her Twitter recap:

Then Steve Ballmer rolled out the same (up until now empty) promises of copy/paste coming to Windows Phone (just do it already, where was the “download it now!” announce?), pouted about how people didn’t realize how cool WP7 is, and trotted out some marketing type to read off of PowerPoint slides on how great all the (already announced, old news) features of Windows Phone were.  Hint: instead of 7 old features, give us 1 or 2 new ones, mmmkay?

Last came the vaporware part of the show, where (complete with hacked up computer wiring, ooooh!) Microsoft showed off Windows v.Someday running on ARM processors.  And it can print!  Great, when it finally comes out we’ll be able to read all about it on our Android tablets.

The Ballmer show is definitely getting old.  In every keynote it’s the same formula, the same forced enthusiasm, the same droning tones that make even the occasional exciting announcement sound boring.  And as usual, this keynote was all about Microsoft Promise, and Microsoft ReHash, but no Microsoft Deliver.  Although a new website popped up with more copy/paste promises, at least it is called “January-Update.aspx”, giving us a little hope for something concrete coming soon from Redmond, which must be the smoke and mirrors capital of the world.

Posted January 6th, 2011 at 10:57 am
Category: Featured, Opinion
Tags: CES 2011, Microsoft
  • http://twitter.com/XOOITSNEW Xoo Cola

    Honestly, pulling for Microsoft is like pulling for a drug addict to clean up its act. It’s just heartbreaking.

    (Motorola’s event, on the other hand, blew me away.)

  • Guest

    Honestly, pulling for Microsoft is like pulling for a drug addict to clean up its act. It’s just heartbreaking.

    (Motorola’s event, on the other hand, blew me away.)

  • Custom Computers

    IMO a little of both Kip. The little bald headed avatar was more exciting!

  • Custom Computers

    IMO a little of both Kip. The little bald headed avatar was more exciting!

  • Anonymous

    This was more or less a keynote for WinHEC, not for CES. But even for WinHEC it would be boring…

  • http://www.uberhaupt.eu Michael Van Goethem

    This was more or less a keynote for WinHEC, not for CES. But even for WinHEC it would be boring…

  • A340-600

    I don’t know if last night’s yawnfest was Ballmer or Microsoft, but for me it was boring because I already known what was going to be keynoted. I guess that’s what I get for following Microsoft a lot (actually, that a nice thing).

    I was hoping that the rumors were true and Microsoft would show off some of the new Windows interface.

  • $16380602

    I don’t know if last night’s yawnfest was Ballmer or Microsoft, but for me it was boring because I already known what was going to be keynoted. I guess that’s what I get for following Microsoft a lot (actually, that a nice thing).

    I was hoping that the rumors were true and Microsoft would show off some of the new Windows interface.

  • http://flavors.me/efelippe Evandro Felippe

    The demo of the new Microsoft Surface was really nice! Other than that, no big announcements at all. Little boring IMO too.

  • http://flavors.me/efelippe Evandro Felippe

    The demo of the new Microsoft Surface was really nice! Other than that, no big announcements at all. Little boring IMO too.

  • Kev

    The speech was ok. I think the media just really didn’t quite get what the SoC and ARM thing was all about. Saw some bloggers give out misinformation about it. Most of this story is about the media, they are never happy with Microsoft. I really don’t get why the press is so obsessed with MS not having a tablet. It’s a fad that will go away. And in the meantime, MS sells Kinect and Windows 7 like hotcakes. They sure had a busy booth at CES, I was there today and it was packed. Lots of people checking out the Windows Phones as well.

  • Kev

    The speech was ok. I think the media just really didn’t quite get what the SoC and ARM thing was all about. Saw some bloggers give out misinformation about it. Most of this story is about the media, they are never happy with Microsoft. I really don’t get why the press is so obsessed with MS not having a tablet. It’s a fad that will go away. And in the meantime, MS sells Kinect and Windows 7 like hotcakes. They sure had a busy booth at CES, I was there today and it was packed. Lots of people checking out the Windows Phones as well.

  • Eduardo Cedillo Martínez

    That’s why I change to Apple. They may be more restrictive and all, but I can expect some new products and launches on a regular basis, for example the new Mac App Store.

  • Eduardo Cedillo Martínez

    That’s why I change to Apple. They may be more restrictive and all, but I can expect some new products and launches on a regular basis, for example the new Mac App Store.

  • Mario Specione

    Most of the time even if it is lame all that Google and Apple do is cool, MSFT in the other hand all their stuff is bad, mediocre or a copy. I think it was good, needed a great final punch, but this is going to get better in all fronts.

  • Mario Specione

    Most of the time even if it is lame all that Google and Apple do is cool, MSFT in the other hand all their stuff is bad, mediocre or a copy. I think it was good, needed a great final punch, but this is going to get better in all fronts.

  • Mario Albertico Magana

    Microsoft seems to keep saving “big” announcements for themed events like E3, but when it has been assigned the responsibility of keynoting, people expect the best of the best. There’s no way Microsoft is going to improve its image if it doesn’t push its coolest most awesome work during the one event that defines the latest in gadgetry. Ballmer, bless his heart, could be part of the issue; Gates could have gotten away with talking about Windows Vista in CES 2011 and people would have still given a standing ovation. But, what I always find most depressing is when Gary Shapiro introduces Ballmer to his best of making the company “important” and then out comes the most bland and expected PowerPoint. Plus, I think Microsoft was secretly showcasing its newest Microsoft Robotics project, the Stepford wife/WP7 product feature demo lady.

    • http://www.pbase.com/brentgv Brent

      Though I didn’t think the Microsoft keynote was brilliant, I didn’t think it was terrible, either. And since when does informing members of CES have to equal copious product announcements? As others have mentioned, the guys at Redmond had a huge success with Kinect, the fastest-selling consumer electronic device in history. And they shouldn’t be opening the CONSUMER ELECTRONICS show again why?

      And Gates: I saw him in ’02 or ’03 (can’t remember), and it was a lot more staid and boring than anything we saw this year. This is probably just a reflection of the times: the shows have gotten more elaborate and staged. But a friend of mine fell asleep during Gates’ speech. I don’t think he would have fallen asleep this year, as unremarkable as it supposedly was.

  • Mario Albertico

    Microsoft seems to keep saving “big” announcements for themed events like E3, but when it has been assigned the responsibility of keynoting, people expect the best of the best. There’s no way Microsoft is going to improve its image if it doesn’t push its coolest most awesome work during the one event that defines the latest in gadgetry. Ballmer, bless his heart, could be part of the issue; Gates could have gotten away with talking about Windows Vista in CES 2011 and people would have still given a standing ovation. But, what I always find most depressing is when Gary Shapiro introduces Ballmer to his best of making the company “important” and then out comes the most bland and expected PowerPoint. Plus, I think Microsoft was secretly showcasing its newest Microsoft Robotics project, the Stepford wife/WP7 product feature demo lady.

    • http://www.pbase.com/brentgv Brent

      Though I didn’t think the Microsoft keynote was brilliant, I didn’t think it was terrible, either. And since when does informing members of CES have to equal copious product announcements? As others have mentioned, the guys at Redmond had a huge success with Kinect, the fastest-selling consumer electronic device in history. And they shouldn’t be opening the CONSUMER ELECTRONICS show again why?

      And Gates: I saw him in ’02 or ’03 (can’t remember), and it was a lot more staid and boring than anything we saw this year. This is probably just a reflection of the times: the shows have gotten more elaborate and staged. But a friend of mine fell asleep during Gates’ speech. I don’t think he would have fallen asleep this year, as unremarkable as it supposedly was.

  • http://www.timacheson.com/ Tim Acheson

    It was a long presentation, and not the most exciting I’ve ever seen, but let’s not get carried away. This is CES.

    In terms of consumer electronics, the keynote gave me a perspective on the past year and revealed a range of new products which I genuinely want to buy and use.

    Sometimes it seems it’s impossible for Microsoft to please people. Until CES 2011 the web was littered with people criticising Microsoft for a lack of tablets. After the keynote, the same individuals are now saying “Tablets? So what?”.

    During the keynote we witnessed, for the first time, a tablet/slate device which is a full-power PC. It’s out this month, available to preorder now.

    I’m going to buy a Win7 tablet this year, and so will millions more. Although most people still prefer a Windows laptop.

  • http://www.timacheson.com/ Tim Acheson

    It was a long presentation, and not the most exciting I’ve ever seen, but let’s not get carried away. This is CES.

    In terms of consumer electronics, the keynote gave me a perspective on the past year and revealed a range of new products which I genuinely want to buy and use.

    Sometimes it seems it’s impossible for Microsoft to please people. Until CES 2011 the web was littered with people criticising Microsoft for a lack of tablets. After the keynote, the same individuals are now saying “Tablets? So what?”.

    During the keynote we witnessed, for the first time, a tablet/slate device which is a full-power PC. It’s out this month, available to preorder now.

    I’m going to buy a Win7 tablet this year, and so will millions more. Although most people still prefer a Windows laptop.

  • http://www.timacheson.com/ Tim Acheson

    “Microsoft wows CES crowd with Windows 7-powered tablets”
    http://mashable.com/2011/01/05/microsoft-windows-7-tablets-ces/

    That was the headline on Mashable. Not what I’d call “underwhelmed”.

    I love the new Windows 7 slate from Asus:
    http://promos.asus.com/US/ASUS_EeeSlate/

    Seriously, I want one! This is a full-power PC running Windows 7 within a mobile slate. It costs only £700 and is available from this month. The specs include an Intel Core i5 CPU, 4GB memory, solid-state hard drive, high-speed wireless networking and Bluetooth, full HD (1080p) and HDMI out.

    http://store.microsoft.com/microsoft/ASUS-Eee-Slate/product/9AF14F7B

  • http://www.timacheson.com/ Tim Acheson

    “Microsoft wows CES crowd with Windows 7-powered tablets”
    http://mashable.com/2011/01/05/microsoft-windows-7-tablets-ces/

    That was the headline on Mashable. Not what I’d call “underwhelmed”.

    I love the new Windows 7 slate from Asus:
    http://promos.asus.com/US/ASUS_EeeSlate/

    Seriously, I want one! This is a full-power PC running Windows 7 within a mobile slate. It costs only £700 and is available from this month. The specs include an Intel Core i5 CPU, 4GB memory, solid-state hard drive, high-speed wireless networking and Bluetooth, full HD (1080p) and HDMI out.

    http://store.microsoft.com/microsoft/ASUS-Eee-Slate/product/9AF14F7B

  • Mikolle

    I think that the biggest point in the keynote was that in the near future microsoft products are going to be everywhere; TV, internet, social life, pc, tablets, phones – even tables and cars. This is not the case today.

    And what comes to the lack of innovation… full Windows 8 running in the same “crappy” hardware as iOS and Android is not bad at all. When that is possible, it’s possible to do _anything_ with tablets as long as some UI API’s are provided.

  • Mikolle

    I think that the biggest point in the keynote was that in the near future microsoft products are going to be everywhere; TV, internet, social life, pc, tablets, phones – even tables and cars. This is not the case today.

    And what comes to the lack of innovation… full Windows 8 running in the same “crappy” hardware as iOS and Android is not bad at all. When that is possible, it’s possible to do _anything_ with tablets as long as some UI API’s are provided.

  • http://www.facebook.com/tomcoulton Thomas Coulton

    Next to Sony’s keynote, MS came out on top… if that is saying anything.
    I didn’t really hate MS keynote all the much. I like to see what is coming down the pike, but yes I did want something for NOW. I want my WP7 to have the new stuff. Apple gets it right when they introduce new phone features, you get it that day. Microsoft really needs to start taking a page from Apples book.

  • JediRebelScum

    Next to Sony’s keynote, MS came out on top… if that is saying anything.
    I didn’t really hate MS keynote all the much. I like to see what is coming down the pike, but yes I did want something for NOW. I want my WP7 to have the new stuff. Apple gets it right when they introduce new phone features, you get it that day. Microsoft really needs to start taking a page from Apples book.

  • Rcandelori

    What, exactly, is new about a Verizon iPhone? Yay, it has ancient CDMA technology after four years on the market, yet the gadget/tech blogs are awash with buzz.

    There is no pleasing the media. Kinect is the fastest selling consumer electronics product in history – yes, even faster than the iPad – yet, Microsoft publicising its momentum is dismissed as dull. Hello people – Apple does these momentum updates at every keynote and new product announcement, we don’t here the same dismissals there. Furtermore, the nonsense about Microsoft creating something like Apple TV is just that: nonsense. The Xbox 360 already does everything the Apple TV does and more, and it’s in the living rooms of more than 50 million people. Seriously, people get a grip.

    That said, am I disappointed not to see WP7 on a tablet – yes, I am. But, the Windows 7 tablets on display this year look pretty good, especially the ASUS 12-inch tablet.

    At the end of the day, the debate on tablets is just about UI. Microsoft sees tablets as just another form factor, heck they’ve been doing them for 10 years. Why should they suddenly drop everything and follow Apple’s model? Then the media would try to have their cake and eat it too by dismissing the effort as a ‘copy’, rather than something different.

    Ultimately, if tablets are like smartphones with huge potential growth, then whether Microsoft launches Windows 8 now or in 12 months makes little difference. Most of the world doesn’t have a tablet, meaning there is a lot of untapped market potential, while costs of hardware are forever decreasing.

    • http://www.pbase.com/brentgv Brent

      Honestly, Microsoft is just waiting on more efficient hardware so that they can run Windows 7 or 8 or whatever on it with a custom tablet UI…which will probably be based on Metro design principles. The problem, of course, is that this all takes time, and the iPad and competitors are out now.

  • Rcandelori

    What, exactly, is new about a Verizon iPhone? Yay, it has ancient CDMA technology after four years on the market, yet the gadget/tech blogs are awash with buzz.

    There is no pleasing the media. Kinect is the fastest selling consumer electronics product in history – yes, even faster than the iPad – yet, Microsoft publicising its momentum is dismissed as dull. Hello people – Apple does these momentum updates at every keynote and new product announcement, we don’t here the same dismissals there. Furtermore, the nonsense about Microsoft creating something like Apple TV is just that: nonsense. The Xbox 360 already does everything the Apple TV does and more, and it’s in the living rooms of more than 50 million people. Seriously, people get a grip.

    That said, am I disappointed not to see WP7 on a tablet – yes, I am. But, the Windows 7 tablets on display this year look pretty good, especially the ASUS 12-inch tablet.

    At the end of the day, the debate on tablets is just about UI. Microsoft sees tablets as just another form factor, heck they’ve been doing them for 10 years. Why should they suddenly drop everything and follow Apple’s model? Then the media would try to have their cake and eat it too by dismissing the effort as a ‘copy’, rather than something different.

    Ultimately, if tablets are like smartphones with huge potential growth, then whether Microsoft launches Windows 8 now or in 12 months makes little difference. Most of the world doesn’t have a tablet, meaning there is a lot of untapped market potential, while costs of hardware are forever decreasing.

    • http://www.pbase.com/brentgv Brent

      Honestly, Microsoft is just waiting on more efficient hardware so that they can run Windows 7 or 8 or whatever on it with a custom tablet UI…which will probably be based on Metro design principles. The problem, of course, is that this all takes time, and the iPad and competitors are out now.

  • Anonymous

    Bringing the best selling OS in history to Mobile technology is A REALLY BIG DEAL. In comparison to Windows 7 all other OS’s are minuscule, yet from tech bloggers reactions you would think they rule the industry.

    The most likely truth that I can come up with is bloggers need something to keep readers coming until Windows 8 comes out optimized to take over the other platforms. But of course they don’t want you to know that so they can survive until that time comes.

  • incendy

    Bringing the best selling OS in history to Mobile technology is A REALLY BIG DEAL. In comparison to Windows 7 all other OS’s are minuscule, yet from tech bloggers reactions you would think they rule the industry.

    The most likely truth that I can come up with is bloggers need something to keep readers coming until Windows 8 comes out optimized to take over the other platforms. But of course they don’t want you to know that so they can survive until that time comes.