Four things that hurt Microsoft at CES 2011

CES 2011 was one of the biggest and most bullish shows in years, but it was not a good one for Microsoft. See the four bad trends that conspired against Microsoft at this year's CES.
This post was originally published by Jason Hiner in the Tech Sanity Blog on January 10, 2011.

This year's Consumer Electronics Shows was one of the biggest and most substantive in years as tech companies showed off some legitimately breakthrough products and transmitted a general sense of enthusiasm about the future and the innovations that are coming down the pipeline.

However, one big player that noticeably missed the boat on the big trends and failed to generate much enthusiasm was Microsoft. That's why I put Microsoft on the losers' list in my post on the biggest winners and losers of CES 2011. Some people have questioned that choice, arguing that Microsoft just had a big success with Xbox 360 Kinect and announced Windows 8 for ARM at CES.

Kinect has been a huge sales success in the videogame industry (which has been dying for a hot new product), even though Kinect is very gimmicky and the gesture interface still needs a lot of work. However, Windows 8 for ARM is not a game-changer for Microsoft. This is not about Microsoft scaling Windows down to run on smartphones and tablets, but ARM chips scaling up to be able to power desktops, laptops, and servers. Microsoft has always supported alternative architectures to x86 (NT supported PowerPC and Alpha) when it made sense. ARM chips are coming on strong, and Microsoft wants to make sure Windows is an option on the new generation of low-cost PCs that will be powered by ARM chips.

The bigger problem for Microsoft at CES 2011 was that there were several red-hot categories where it should have been a key player but it got virtually shut out from all the big announcements and the hottest products. That's not a good sign for Microsoft's prospects in 2011.

Specifically, here are four of the stars that aligned against Microsoft at this year's CES:

1. Vision-less keynote

This one was all on Microsoft itself. As usual, Microsoft had the beach-front property of CES keynotes as the first keynoter on the schedule on the night before the show officially opened. Unfortunately, Microsoft and CEO Steve Ballmer completely wasted the opportunity. It spent the presentation reviewing the new products that it launched in 2010, and, even worse, it rehashed some of the same demos from those product launches. Microsoft failed to give us a compelling vision for its place in the staggering changes that are sweeping through the computing world right now, especially the rapid transformation of the PC into smartphones and tablets.

2. Partners pushed Android over WP7 phones

In the fourth quarter of 2010, Microsoft announced Windows Phone 7 devices with the help of major partners Samsung, HTC, LG, and Dell. While several of those devices just came to market or are still coming to market, those vendors spent CES touting their new Android devices. For all of them, the Windows Phone 7 devices were barely a footnote at CES.

3. No room in the spotlight for Windows machines

One of the usual features of CES is seeing the new lines of desktops and laptops from the major PC vendors. In fact, those new machines have traditionally been some of the headliners of the show by integrating the latest processors or newest hardware components (such as Blu-ray drives, etc.) or innovating with flashy new designs. That wasn't the case at CES 2011. Nearly all the talk in the PC ecosystem was about new tablets and laptop/tablet hybrids, and nearly all of them -- with a few exceptions like the Samsung Sliding PC 7 -- were running Android. As with smartphones, Microsoft's big hardware partners were pimping Android instead of Windows

4. Nothing to show in tablets

Speaking of tablets, Microsoft had no story there. At last year's CES keynote, Steve Ballmer tried to steal Apple's thunder just a few weeks before the announcement of the iPad (the worst kept secret in tech at that point) by pre-announcing the coming of Windows Slate PCs. Other than the HP Slate 500, the tablets Ballmer touted last year never came to market due to software and battery issues. Since then, Microsoft hasn't given us anything else to believe in, as far as its tablet strategy goes. Sure, Ballmer promised financial analysts last July that Microsoft was working on an iPad rival and he told CNET in October that Microsoft was waiting for Intel's Oak Trail chips in order to create a great tablet, but talk is cheap. At CES 2011, even longtime chum Intel criticized Microsoft for waiting too long to get its act together on tablets. Ouch.

Is Microsoft doomed?

So, am I predicting the demise of Microsoft? No, I'm not saying it's over for Microsoft. The company still has plenty of great technology assets and a ton of smart people working for it. Microsoft's product quality has actually been pretty good over the last couple years. I've been impressed with the work they did on both Bing and Windows Phone 7, for example. The timing was late-to-market on both products, and that will limit their success, but in both instances Microsoft showed that it can still execute.

However, Microsoft needs to figure out the vision thing, and just saying "Windows everywhere" is not the answer. Ballmer and crew also need to figure it out pretty quickly because things are accelerating faster than ever in the tech industry, and Microsoft has to stop playing catch-up and start getting out in front of some of these big trends.

Look at the Motorola Atrix, the new dual-core Android smartphone that also doubles as a PC. This was a concept that Bill Gates championed over a decade ago, but who was the one who executed on it? Motorola, not Microsoft. At Motorola's press conference announcing the Atrix I just kept thinking,"How did Microsoft and Apple let Motorola beat them to the punch on this?"

What if Microsoft had built this kind of phone-docking technology into Windows Phone 7? I think the world would have been a lot more excited about WP7 phones. In fact, WP7 devices could have been the talk of CES as their hardware partners raced to offer the best WP7 phone + PC option. That's an example of the kind of excitement Microsoft needs to be generating. It didn't happen at this year's CES, and that's not a good sign for the former king of the computing world.

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Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.

spaul940 1 Like

I read the title of the article and said, sounds like something Janon Hiner (aka Apple lover) would write. I opened the article and started laughing. Yep - it was written by "I love everything Apple Jason Hiner." I can see his articles in an oped page - you expect bias but not in a normal magazine / paper. Sad when he is that obvious. He has even stopped trying to appear neutral!


Hmm... I've been following TechRepublic for years and find that objectivity is clearly lacking here. It's tech punditry. Welcome to the new world of the media, where opinions are like a$$holes -- everyone has one. If you've read Jason's posts of late, he's slamming the iPad2 and complaining that Apple forces people into the iTunes ghetto. Not true at all -- you can download movies and music from Amazon and other places and import these into iTunes very easily. You can even mount an iPod as a drive (on Mac or PC) and get the files off of it. Their DRM is easily circumvented. I just bought an iPhone 4 and lots of people told me to go with droid, due to Apple's "walled garden" approach. Well, Droid has very few apps and is missing some of the best ones that are only on the iPhone. The Droid App Market also had 50-some malicious apps that stole 200,000 users personal data and contacts. Google had to remotely get into people's phones and delete these apps. I'm sorry. Apple isn't perfect, but the competition simply sucks balls.


Being more on point, Microsoft is in serious trouble. Nokia's announcement of going with Windows based smart phones gave their stock price a beating. People know that Microsoft makes crap products. They're always 3-5 years behind. Java... 5 years later, C#. Google... 10 years later, Bing. iPod... 5 years later Zune. iPhone... 4 years later, Windows smart phones. Apple has my respect. I used to dislike Apple products and think they were only for superficial people. That said, I am a java EE developer and the Mac platform is a superior development platform for Java EE. Apple actually conforms to POSIX standards, whereas Microsoft does not. So if you deploy a Java EE solution to *nix, the Mac is a *nix system, so things like file paths and the overall environment are the same. Every tutorial video I see for java EE development uses a Mac now. Java programmers have come to respect Apple. I love the fact that I have a Unix computer that runs shell scripts and does all these neat Unix things, but I can run iTunes and Photoshop on it too. That's what keeps me off the Linux desktop. All Microsoft can do is immitate something that came out years before and try to force it on people with a combination of hegemony, familiarity, and for some time, cheap prices. Now Apple has a huge economy of scales effect, and can make devices with superior quality (iPhone 4) at prices that beat everyone else. Look at the iPad (1 or 2)? Who can beat it? And Jason Whiner complains about fingerprints and glare on the screen?!? I like Apple stuff, but I would never buy any 1.0 product. At least theirs actually work well. The low end of the tablet/PC/phone market will go to Google and the high end will go to Apple. As a Java developer, why am I not in love with Android? I don't think Java is a good technology for GUI front ends. Every java developer knows this. Everyone who has used an Android phone can see it. It's not as smooth or fast as an iPhone. Sure, they have some super JVM technology... but the real reason Google went with Linux/Java (the truth is, in the Linux world, most apps like Open Office are developed in Objective C) is so they could catch up with app development. It's easier to develop an app in Java than Obj C -- you don't have to deal with memory (well, sort of). But that consideration wasn't made out of performance or best practices. So far it hasn't paid off. I just bought an iPhone 4 because there just aren't enough apps for Droid. With the Verizon iPhone (which is what I was waiting for), Google and it's partners in droid-ness are going to take a beating!!! I read a poll that 54% of existing driod phone users will switch to the iPhone when Verizon offers it. The proof is in the pudding -- Apple can barely make enough of these things to satisfy demand. People who urged me to go droid were thinking more philosophically -- Droid is open. Yes, and their app market place is full of malware and crap, and is missing some key apps. Comcast, PBS, Adult Swim, Chipotle, to name a few... Apple and the iPhone are not perfect, but they're better than anything else. Hiner whines about the Widgets that iPhone users are jealous of. Nope. I don't give a rat's ass about widgets and I don't think they are a good way to control settings. One can get iPhone apps that show the ugly HTC clock. What most droid fanboys don't know about is "voice command" on the iPhone. One can make calls, control the iPod, get the current time (better than that ugly HTC clock) with voice command, and my hunch is that they will expand it to do things like control system settings. The fact that any a-hole can write an app that controls system settings, and sell this in the droid marketplace is not a great thing. It's easy for someone to develop malware that turns on your bluetooth at 2am and runs your battery down, or worse. Droid malware apps have done much worse than this... Like stealing all your contact information so your associates can be hassled about penis enlargement and Viagara. But as bleeding-edge and clueless as Google is in some respects, they will totally take over Microsoft's bread and butter. They will destroy Microsoft Office and Windows. People will either get Apple products or Android based products. Microsoft will suffer the fate of IBM in the 90s, but may be able to re-invent themselves as solution provider for small to medium sized businesses. Oracle, IBM and open source products will rule enterprise computing... To a certain extent, they already do.


He does make very good points about Microsoft's lack of vision in the mobile market. Everything I use in the dev/desktop/server world is Microsoft, but in the mobile market Android and Apple rule. Windows 7 is Microsoft's best OS to date, I would even say best OS period. On the flipside, Windows Phone 7 was late to a market already saturated by Androids and iPhones. Now, the same is happening with tablets, which is too bad because the mobile market is very hot.


This didn't sound like an anti-Microsoft article to me. And it has valid points. Microsoft HAS been less vocal in the past few years, and unless they put their game faces on, they won't make the comeback to be the leader they once were. I can easily see Android being adopted into and OS form and becoming a new leader in computer OSs

afficionado 1 Like

The consumer market has moved away from the relatively immobile Microsoft behemoth. It makes no more sense for them to be at CES than IBM or Siemens.


They REALLY need to read the public demand better. Scratch that, they need to respond to it faster. They have the money and the means to research what needs and wants the public and business communities have, they should utilize that power. Then, and only then, will they be able to catch up and get ahead.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

What do you think of Microsoft's performance at CES 2011? Do they have a vision for the future or do they seem a bit rudderless?

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