About 30 minutes into Bill Gates keynote, I realized that the one thing I would take away from Bill’s final CES keynote was this: Grown men shouldn’t wear sweaters that look like they came straight from The Gap’s Spring Collection. Bill wore a light purple number while VP of Entertainment and Devices, Robbie Bach, wore a light blue sweater that would make Martha Stewart proud.
As I watched this one big Microsoft commercial it became clear that Microsoft is obsessed with entering every market, even those that appear to have a tenuous need for Microsoft created software.
Take the Zune demo tonight. The hardware is basically an afterthought. What we saw were the “social” features of the Zune software that brought nothing new to the table. If you’ve seen Last.FM , you’ve already seen tonight’s Zune demo. Even if Last.FM wasn’t around, the social features of the Zune aren’t all that useful when most of your friends own an iPod.
One huge improvement over past years was Bill’s slide deck. I’m convinced Microsoft paid someone from Apple big bucks to create the deck. It was simple and clean to the point that it supported rather than distracted from his keynote.
A few more quick takes from the evenings events:
Best Demo: Microsoft Surface which showed Bill creating a design on his new snowboard. The demo was easy to follow. Surface still costs way to much, but it looked cool. Bill even made a sly Surface plug to casino owners at the very end of the demo.
Worst Demo: Who decided it would be a good idea to demo the Microsoft/Ford Sync from inside a car? It was much too dark, and they didn’t show off the coolest feature (Wireless syncing cars music with owner’s music collection on computer). Get out of the car or bring more light so we can see what’s going on in there. The lighting was so bad the silver Ford looked like the Delorean in Back to the Future. I felt claustrophobic watching from home.
Weirdest Word Creation: Robbie Back actually used the word “carinfotainment” on stage when talking about Sync. I nearly spit my Diet Coke.
Best use of a Celebrity: Lots to choose from here including Slash, Hillary, Bono and Obama to name a few. But my favorite was Jay-Z watching Bill try his hand at creating a rap song. Jay-Z looks into the camera and says, “Will someone tell Bill he’s not very good?” Very funny stuff.
Strangest Product Placement: When I worked at Microsoft years ago, we were not allowed to have Sony products such as laptop or monitors in view of the cameras, especially at large keynote events. If a Sony monitor happened to sneak into an event, the logo would be taped over. Yet tonight, the cameras panned across a table with multiple Sony VAIO laptops in plain view.
Best Quote: Bach and Bill were showing a demo of “MediaRoom” that allowed the user to bring up tagged videos, one of which was the 2005 CES keynote that included a comedy bit with Conan O’ Brian interviewing Gates. As the video began to play Bach quipped, “This was the year none of the demos worked“.
Worst Quote: Bach saying, “Vista is a great OS for gaming“
Best Smokescreen: Bach again when he’s comparing the Xbox to the Nintendo Wii and Sony PS3. Bach says, “Xbox has had tremendous success as well. 17.7m consoles shipped to date — in the US through November we did $3.5 billion in business, more than the Wii and PS3.. more than the spending on Wii and PS3 combined”
Notice here that he’s careful not to give number of actual consoles sold YTD for PS3 or the Wii, only how much has been spent. The Xbox 360 console, games and peripherals cost more than the Nintendo offerings. Microsoft could be losing money on every console sold. We don’t know. We do know that Nintendo is making a profit on each Wii sold and they are still difficult to find after a year on the market.This is like General Motors saying car buyers spent more money on the Chevy Malibu than Porsche Cayman.
Biggest Non-Starter: Bach announcing that Microsoft will begin selling the Zune outside the US….in Canada. I guess not many Canadians were in attendance because you could hear a pin drop when this was announced.
Best Stating of the Obvious: Bach’s demo gal who I refer to as Nervous Molly started off her Zune demo by stating, “Music is an inherently social experience, and that’s why we made Zune Social”. This line came off like a bad Saturday Night Live skit where the guest host reads every line off the cue cards.
Best Solution looking for a Problem: Nervous Molly showing Bach this crazy new technology that allows one to order movie tickets with a phone. No way! It must be 2025!
Ugliest Device of the Night: The big black brick that Bill showed off near the end of the keynote. He referred to the thing as “contextual camera recognition” but it looked like a huge remote control tethered to a line of coax cable. The demo wasn’t setup very well so I really have no idea what its supposed to do. Maybe in the future our devices are so power hungry they require a full time power supply?
We are Not Guitar Heroes: I was hoping to see Bill jam out on Guitar Hero with Bach at the very end of the presentation, but they wimped out and brought Slash and an experienced GH girl on stage to jam in proxy. Welcome to the Jungle!
Microsoft wants so badly to be the cool kid on the block. Bill and company attempt to toss in jokes here and there, especially during the video that showed Bill trying to figure out what to do once he retires from Microsoft. As usual, the videos are well made, but the focus of the products is on the partners, suppliers, and big media like NBC. Contrast that with Apple whose products themselves are just cool because they are created with a FOCUS ON THE CONSUMER. One could hear it during the short demo of Windows Mobile. The words and delivery Bill used were geared to the companies who license Windows Mobile, not on the people in the audience who actually buy the phones.