Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer and Robbie Bach delivered the keynote last night at the 2010 Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas and it was the usual mixture of self-congratulatory boosterism and product and technology demos. Here is my list of highlights:
After a report on how well Windows 7 is selling, there were the PC demos including a prototype Hewlett-Packard slate PC that the technical press was pining for.
It looks like a touch enabled netbook to me and while it may have a niche, I suspect I would be screaming for a keyboard (or at least a stylus) in under a minute of usage. Perhaps more interesting were the ultrathin Lenovo A300 laptop with a 21.5" screen and the Sony VAIO home entertainment notebook with a 24" screen. How big does a laptop have to get before it becomes a single element desktop?
HP is making Bing the default Web search engine and MSN the default home page on all their PCs in 42 countries.
Ballmer put the usual lipstick on this pig and Robbie Bach appeared later to flog upcoming games (including another lucrative Halo version) and tout Project Natal, the motion sensing technology that will appear later this year to replace the standard controllers for some games.
Bach also announced Mediaroom 2.0, the latest version of Microsoft’s IPTV offering for service providers which now supports PCs and smartphoes as well as set top boxes and Xbox consoles for TV viewing.
Microsoft really did not have much of its own to show again this year. I am almost beginning to miss the goofy Bill Gates future technology skits.
Microsoft and its mobile phone partners today launched Windows Mobile 6.5 phones under the new brand, Windows phones:
Microsoft today unveiled a new generation of phones from leading manufacturers and mobile operators that offer an intuitive user interface, powerful Web browsing, and access to an online library of downloadable services and applications. Windows phones — a new brand for phones running Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system — are now available in retail stores worldwide in a broad range of styles and prices.
The new phones were shown at press events in New York, hosted by Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft’s Entertainment & Devices Division, and in Paris, where Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer showed off the new Windows phones. They also announced the availability of two key services platforms for the new phones: My Phone and Windows Marketplace for Mobile. My Phone is a free service that helps people back up and manage photos, applications and other content from their phone or PC, as well as restore information in the event of a lost phone. Windows Marketplace for Mobile is an online library of business and leisure mobile applications — as well as games — that customers can buy and download directly to their phones.
The partners announcing Windows phones are listed here as well as a laundry list of what is new in Windows Mobile 6.5, but not unexpectedly it is an incremental release with a new user interface crafted on top of the same old Windows Mobile 6.1 which has lead to some predictable complaints:
Judging from the first wave of 6.5 handsets, the change OS will barely be noticeable to most folks. Alternative interfaces like TouchFLO and TouchWiz will remain, and won’t outwardly change, nor will included apps—they’re all compatible. Customers will buy Windows Mobile phones based on the quality of their 3rd party interfaces; carriers will continue to carry them because certain people, chained by their employers or a specific piece of software, will need them; and app makers will be slow to take to the Marketplace, since hey, how much longer do these Windows CE 5-based OSes even have left? It’ll be a sad, long slog until April (or god forbid, December) when Windows Mobile 7, whatever it is, finally hits phones.
To net it out, Windows Mobile 6.5, the first incarnation of Windows phone, is merely a placeholder until Windows Mobile 7 can be delivered as Steve Ballmer has publicly admitted. Meanwhile, longtime Microsoft partner Verizon has announced a "strategic partnership" with Google and a plan to launch some Android-based phones.
Another day, another Microsoft leak reported by the folks at Gizmodo. This time it is two models (Turtle, Pure) of Microsoft’s long rumored Pink phone:
These phones are going to be made by Sharp, who’ll get to share branding with Microsoft. Sharp produced the Sidekick hardware for Danger, who was bought by Microsoft two years ago. Pink will be primarily aimed at the same market as the Sidekick, and the branding and identity for it is highly developed, pointing toward a later stage in the development cycle.
The prior relationship between Danger and Sharp is the only reason we can think of why Microsoft stuck with Sharp for the new phones, and perhaps why they look so much like remixed Sidekicks. The youth bent is somewhat surprising, if Pink is going to be their big consumer phone play, building off the expertise of Danger and members of the Zune team.
We mentioned the Danger acquisition in February 2008 at which point it looked like just a software play. The Sharp-Danger Sidekick itself was billed as a "hiptop" device that was smaller than a laptop or netbook but bigger than a cell phone, and the photos of the apparently chunky Pink phones do nothing to dispel that same impression. Moreover, the idea of a new form factor is a convenient way to avoid overtly antagonizing Microsoft’s main line cell phone partners who are dutifully licensing Windows Mobile. Still, would you want to buy your smart phone OS from a serious competitor?
So is Pink Microsoft’s answer to the iPhone or just a demo? Time will tell.
Of late there has been a litany of bad news for Microsoft’s Windows Mobile smart phone operating system:
"Let me just say it was a tough year on succeeding in phones. Mostly our own issues, frankly. Mostly our own issues. And really driving our execution the right way at the right speed. We’ve readjusted some of our plans. Robbie Bach is going to talk some about that."
and Bach said:
“To date, we haven’t done as good a job as I would like building relationships and getting the right integration with our hardware partners,” Bach said. “You’re going to see dramatic improvement in integration.”
So what’s to be done? Robbie Bach (same link as above) says, "You’ll see our execution rhythm pick up and the quality of our execution improve." There is always room for a turnaround, but it won’t happen soon apparently. In the meantime, mobile is yet another of Steve Ballmer’s big bets that is sucking cash and not paying off.