I remember the first time I shook hands with Bill Gates. I don't remember the exact date, but I sure do remember the experience. It happened at COMDEX (Computer Dealers' Exhibition) in the early '90s. Windows 3.1 was being featured at the conference. I walked up to Bill Gates and before I got a word out, he said with a big smile on his face, "It's cool." That's all he said to me and everyone he shook hands with. And that was good enough for everyone.
Twenty years later, Microsoft announced that the company is walking away from its major sponsorship for CES (Consumer Electronics Show), which, to me, is just a 20-year-old COMDEX. Consequently, Steve Ballmer's keynote at the 2012 CES will be his last. It's the end of an era.
For a few days after Microsoft's announcement, I read a bunch of articles from technology writers that I really respect, who speculated on what Microsoft's decision means. Some writers speculate that Microsoft's decision is a good sign, showing that the company is finally getting more solution and vertically focused instead of going for a pure technology play. In addition, these writers think that Microsoft will dedicate its time, effort, and resources to this new strategic direction. Many writers speculate that Microsoft is no longer a leader in the technology space. CNN suggests that Microsoft is no longer one of the top four technology companies. And no one really believes Microsoft's official statement, which is that CES isn't aligned with the company's product releases.
I'm the king of speculation, but I'm not going to speculate in this column. It's not fair, it's probably wasted breath, and I feel that it might not even be relevant. What I am going to tell you is what I want; what I wish; what I crave. Because I have a feeling that many of you feel, want, and crave the same things that I do.
But, first let me tell you what Microsoft announced at CES and why that news might be exciting for the future. My engineers (and kids) make fun of me for not knowing who anyone is in pop culture, but I do know who Ryan Seacrest is. As crazy as it sounds to me, Microsoft chose to have Ryan Seacrest interview Ballmer for the CES 2012 keynote. It's crazy, but I get it. It's a consumer audience. And there's no longer a rift between the technology and consumer worlds. Apple has successfully eliminated that rift, and that's a good thing. So, here are the four things from Ballmer's keynote that I derived as exciting and important:
Windows Phone 7
I want Windows Phone 7 to compete. Competition is great for the technology industry and I love an underdog. Windows Phone 7 is clearly an adoption underdog. Nokia announced its new Lumia 900 smartphone, which is being called the flagship device in the Windows Phone alliance. T-Mobile also announced the Nokia Lumia 710, which is Nokia's first smartphone running the Windows Phone OS in the United States.
Although I'm not a gamer, I am riveted by the rumors of an Xbox 360 successor that's described as being much more than just a gaming console: a web TV–like appliance that eliminates the need for your cable TV provider, and at the same time synchronizes your devices, software, and music. And the UI is rumored to have Kinect capabilities with voice and gesture?! Just rumors. . .but count me in on that bandwagon. And at CES there were plenty of hints about the future of the Xbox.
Kinect for Windows
It's funny how much explaining I'm forced to do when Microsoft isn't clear about a product announcement. This announcement was certainly convoluted. Here's my understanding of Microsoft's announcement: Over 18 million Kinect devices have been sold in the consumer market. If you want to build a Kinect-driven application that runs on Windows (not on the Xbox), you can't legally use a Kinect device. Instead, a new Kinect device with some better fidelity and features that's tuned for Windows will be available on February 1 for $250, and it comes with a production SDK and license for commercial use. I'm performing a keynote at a Kinect developer conference three days before the Kinect for Windows is publicly available. Just imagine how I'm going to explain this announcement to an audience of developers.
Out of everything that Microsoft announced at CES, Windows 8 is what excites me most and at the same time gives me so much angst. I need a beta; I want a beta; I crave a beta. I'm tired of the speculation and rumors. This deafening silence since the announcements at Microsoft's BUILD conference last September is killing me. With that said, here are some of the new Windows 8 features that appeared in the CES keynote that pleased me:
- Translucent Charms Bar
- Metro app grouping
- Metro group naming
- Metro music player
- Metro-UI background changer
- Gesture to close Metro-Style Apps
- Active Windows Store
You can see some of these features without having to watch the entire keynote on The Verge YouTube channel. So, back to what I want; what I wish; what I crave. My Microsoft wish list is long, but I only get a thousand words here and I'm already over that, so let me show you what I want from Microsoft:
- Clearly Microsoft intends the Kinect product line to be a big player in the stack. And the Kinect is cool and powerful. I know; we build Windows apps that are driven by the Kinect. But, how many cool, consumer products from Microsoft can you name? Not many, I trust. Is it too much to ask to get some of the hundreds, if not thousands, of cool prototypes and concept proofs out of Microsoft Research and into the marketplace? Let me give you an example: The HoloDesk—A virtual 3D environment where humans interact with virtual objects and virtual objects can actually interact with each other. Is that not the beginnings of Star Trek's holodeck?! Talk about consumer cool.
- One of Apple's strengths for consumers is ease of use and integration. If Apple can integrate its entire stack through Microsoft's cloud infrastructure and make it simple and powerful, then why can't Microsoft? I want a totally simple, cool, and powerful integrated Kinect/Windows 8/Xbox/Windows Phone 7 world, where my wife doesn't constantly make statements to me such as, "I can't print," or, "The Internet is down."
Those are two things that I want from Microsoft. Even if these ideas were in beta and executed properly, CES would be begging Microsoft to schedule a keynote session. Then Microsoft could say no, and no one would speculate or question the company for choosing to do so.