“We won’t have a keynote or booth [at CES] after this year because our product news milestones generally don’t align with the show’s January timing,” forewarned Microsoft corporate communications VP Frank X. Shaw in December. “As we look at all of the new ways we tell our consumer stories – from product momentum disclosures, to exciting events like our Big Windows Phone, to a range of consumer connection points like Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft.com and our retail stores – it feels like the right time to make this transition.”
Shaw could well be right about CES’s timing. This year the show was moved back a week to make it easier for companies returning from the Christmas and New Year break, but its placement hasn’t hindered Microsoft much in the past. Over the years CES has been the stage Microsoft has delivered a raft of important firsts including the first public demo of the Xbox, Windows Media Center (at the time called ‘Freestyle’), the first beta of Windows 7 and the news of ARM support in Windows 8. Microsoft has also been the key CES partner, with Gates and Ballmer in turns hosting the pre-show keynote address.
Numerous reasons have been levelled for the split, from stand rates to contract lengths, but the truth is Microsoft these days seeks something CES cannot deliver: control. While the company talks up search, the Cloud and its Metro UI, the real focus for the years ahead is to take back control of its image and to lock down the performance of its PC and mobile platforms which have been damaged so badly by lackadaisical third parties.
Shaw’s list of “new ways we tell our consumer stories” is interesting: Big Windows Phone, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft.com and Microsoft’s own retail stores. At no point does he mention other trade shows, hardware and software partners or third party retailers. Mobile World Congress begins next month and there are giant tech shows later in the year like CeBIT, IFA and E3 – not a single name check. Microsoft is getting tough… it is getting like Apple.
The signs have been there for some time. With the Xbox Microsoft took control of hardware and software for the first time. It could be argued this was necessary given the intrinsically locked down nature of consoles, but Microsoft could have easily employed the same system Sky uses for its set-top boxes and had them built to specific requirements by third parties.
More to the point it took control of peripherals to an extent where ‘Made for iPod’ looked positively liberal, and it ventured in a direction even infamous control freak Sony dared not tread: locking down hard drive upgrades. What Microsoft produced were neat, overpriced modules which the company justified by claiming such measures were needed to guarantee they ‘just worked’. Sound familiar?
It was just the start…