Posts Tagged: steve ballmer

Jan 11

CES: the second annual tablet-fest

No matter how hard I Google, I can’t find the exact number of tablets that were launched at last year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. Best I can come up with is “dozens.”

Whatever the number was, it’s a perfect match for the number of tablets that have been largely forgotten in the 12 months since. Steve Ballmer, Vapor Master, made the keynote speech in 2010, delivering a non-demonstrative demo of HP’s Slate tablet, which never saw the light of day. At least he didn’t try to hype Microsoft’s own Courier tablet, which was quietly euthanized three months later.

Now comes CES 2011. Once again, Ballmer will take the stage for the keynote, giving him a chance to wash down the emptiness from last year. With the tablet floodgates opening, one would hope he’d have an easier time coming up with a few devices that actually work. Logic says he’ll try to wash away the bad memory with sheer quantity.

Another company with big dreams is Toshiba. A quote from their director of marketing in today’s New York Times sums it up perfectly: “We could have done this a year ago and rushed it out, but it wouldn’t have had the right features.”

He might just as well have said, “We could have done this a year ago and rushed it out, but we didn’t yet know what to copy.”

There’s really only one strategy these guys can follow: offer more features than iPad, hopefully at a better price. The problem, of course, is that iPad is more than just iPad — it’s rich ecosystem with 300,000+ apps and countless accessories. A few more features or a slight savings don’t quite make up for the lack of such things.

While one of the favorite anti-iPad zingers is “It’s just a giant iPod touch,” we will now see a deluge of tablets that are simply giant Android phones. This is not a criticism, as I’ve long felt that this is exactly what tablets need to be — a faster and bigger-screened version of the smartphones we’ve already come to love. Now that the Anti-Apple is following Apple’s course, we’ll see if that put-down begins to fade.

Expect also to see the haters out in force, damning Apple’s evil plan to control us all, cheering on a spate of superior devices that will finally turn the tide against Apple. By necessity, they will gloss over the fact that none of these new devices would exist if it weren’t for Apple’s invention. And never mind that Apple customers have been enjoying the tablet’s benefits a full year before everyone else.

As always, the problem with copying Apple’s technology is that you’re copying last year’s model. Just a month or two after all these new models show up at CES, Apple introduces iPad 2. For the most part, competitors are playing a game of leapfrog in which they never manage to leap the frog.

This year, I refuse to get my information second-hand. I will be journeying to CES to get my furry little hands on these devices myself. I’ll let you know how it goes…

Nov 10

The Microsoft festival of comedy

The comedy writers at Microsoft have really been working overtime this week. There is much to be delighted with.

First, we have Microsoft’s entry into the zombie genre with the Return of the Kins. Yes, the very same Microsoft phones that died before the packaging was even dry, just 60 days after launch. The Kin One and Kin Two phones are back, courtesy of Verizon. They have curious new names (Kin One-m and Kin Two-m), fewer capabilities and they’re now billed as feature phones instead of smartphones. That oughtta work.

Laugh #2 comes from the video above. To be honest, I did not believe this was real when I first saw it. Not even Microsoft could be this inept. But lo and behold, there it is proudly playing on their official YouTube page.

Obviously this spot isn’t meant for broadcast — but that doesn’t make it any less of a criminal act. It’s one of those ads that leaves you aghast that so many people in the approval chain could possibly give it the thumbs-up. Not just because it has all the class of a Pee Wee Herman production, but because its strategy is so misguided.

The big advantage of Windows laptops? They can play Blu-ray discs. Like (a) you’ll really appreciate Blu-ray on 15-inch screen, and (b) you’d rather carry discs around than just download high-def movies onto your Mac.

More stunning than Microsoft’s strategy are some of the comments I’ve seen where this ad is posted. Some commenters believe Microsoft is “really fighting back now” after Apple beat them up for several years with the Mac vs. PC campaign. Must be a fine line between fighting back and total surrender.

Add to this the fact that Microsoft’s own chief XBox man in the U.K. recently said “actually Blu-ray is going to be passed by as a format.” Hopefully word will get to Microsoft’s marketing department soon.

The last laugh comes from Bellevue, WA, where a mega-Microsoft Store opened to a large and raucous crowd, complete with an appearance by Steve Ballmer. Not wanting to mess with success, Microsoft used its well-proven method of manufacturing large and raucous crowds — they offered free Miley Cyrus concert tickets. Guess those Blu-ray-enabled laptops weren’t quite big enough a draw.

See the festive opening video here. And don’t miss the 2:30 mark where Steve Ballmer actually does his famous tongue-sticking-out act as he welcomes an eager customer. Scary!

Anyway, good work Microsoft. If the whole technology thing doesn’t work out, at least you have a future in entertainment.

Jun 10

Battle of the Steves

"PCs in greater and greater number"

Probably the last thing this world needs is a demonstration of the difference between Steve Jobs and Steve Ballmer. Nonetheless, we got a pretty good one at the D8 Conference.

One of Jobs’ more interesting moments was his view of the PC’s future. He noted that trucks were largely replaced by cars only when cars sprouted consumer amenities. We still need trucks, but not for as many things. Similarly, we will continue to need PCs, but not for as many things. Tablet-like devices will just make most things so much easier.

Seems pretty obvious.

Then comes Ballmer’s interview. His duty, of course, is to disagree with Jobs. Hearing Mossberg’s summary of Jobs’ statement, Ballmer jumps in. “People will be using PCs in greater and greater number for many years to come,” he says, but “I think PCs will continue to shift in form factors.” He goes on talking about changes in “semiconductor infrastructure” (now he’s talking our language) to support Windows in different devices, and so on.

Aha. So iPads won’t rule the world. PCs will still be around, but in a different form. Mossberg presses Ballmer by asking if the iPad is actually a PC by this argument, to which Ballmer says, “of course it is.”

So what’s Ballmer’s point again? He’s basically just agreed with Jobs that future devices will take different forms than conventional PCs. He’s just insisting that we continue to call them PCs. Now that’s leadership.

Personally, I wish politicians and corporate executives would learn that being human is more important than disagreeing with their competitors. Ballmer would score more points if he simply said, “I don’t disagree with what Steve Jobs said on this stage. New devices will obviously take over many of the PC’s functions, and Microsoft is working hard to build this future.” He could always hope nobody mentions the now-abandoned Courier project.

My point is that disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing is conventional, uninspiring and pointless. If Microsoft wants to help build the future, they’re not going to do it by clinging to words like “PC.”