Photo: Steve Kovach, Business Insider
Tonight, Steve Ballmer will take the stage for the final Microsoft keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show.The company says it’s bailing because the January show doesn’t fit into its product planning cycle. Microsoft usually aims to release new products in the fall, which creates an annual scramble to get something interesting together in time for the first week of January.
If you want more proof that CES hasn’t been a great fit for Microsoft, it’s right there in the company’s past keynotes.
We went through Microsoft’s CES keynotes for the last 11 years and looked at what happened to the products announced there. Only two turned out to be big successes, and only one of those was really a consumer electronics device. Most of the others flopped or never saw the light of day. And some years, Microsoft didn’t show much of anything at all — it literally had no new products to push.
See for yourself…
It may be hard to believe now, but Microsoft was way ahead of Amazon and Barnes and Noble with electronic books. It had an e-book platform called Reader, which shipped as part of its PocketPC platform.
In fact, at the 2000 CES, Microsoft announced a PARTNERSHIP with Barnes and Noble to support Reader; ironic because now Microsoft is suing Barnes and Noble for patent infringement because it uses Google's Android technology on its Nook reader.
Needless to say, the Reader technology never took off and Microsoft finally put it to rest last year. PocketPC eventually grew into Windows Mobile, Microsoft's first smartphone platform. In 2010, Microsoft abandoned it, too, in favour of Windows Phone.
Microsoft had announced plans to build a game console almost a year before, but at CES 2001 Bill Gates took the stage with WWF wrestler The Rock to show the Xbox for the first time.
It took more than five years and a major console update, but the Xbox is now a profitable hit business, and still growing fast -- in the week of Thanksgiving last year, it sold more than 1 million of them.
These two codenamed products were the highlights of Bill Gates' presentation in 2002.
Freestyle was a remote control for your PC and associated TV interface. It ended up becoming the much more boringly named Windows Media centre, which is still part of Windows today, although it's not used all that much.
Mira (shown here) was a flat-panel display that connected to your PC over a wireless network, letting you interact with your PC from a different room. It eventually launched as Smart Displays, but was killed a year later -- causes of death included its high price (over $1,000!) and lack of support for high-bandwidth features like watching video.
Back when Steve Jobs was still telling the world that the iPod would not support video, Microsoft decided to take the plunge with a portable device that could play both audio and video. rumour has it that this Microsoft literally decided to pull this out on stage mere weeks before CES, and rushed out a prototype based on a device lying around in a lab on campus.
But like usual, Microsoft didn't make the hardware. Instead, it developed a software platform called Portable Media centre, then left the hardware design to partners like Creative.
The resulting Portable Media centre devices were heavy and block like, and never went anywhere. Later, Microsoft used some of the same design ideas for the Zune (another flop) and Windows Phone (the jury's still out).
Another riff on the Media centre idea -- these were devices that that were supposed to solve the problem of people not wanting to keep their PC in the living room. Instead, you'd connect a Media centre Extender to your TV, then stream all the information -- like videos and music -- from your PC to the Extender over your home network.
It was just as appealing as it sounds. Microsoft later built the technology into the Xbox, but companies continued making standalone versions for several years.
The 2005 CES keynote showed how hard it had become for Microsoft to time new product announcements around CES -- the company had nothing new to show, but did announce new partners for some existing products and programs.
One of those programs, PlaysForSure, was supposed to ensure that third-party MP3 players would work with certain online music stores including MSN Music. It was a ridiculously complicated program compared with Apple's iPod+iTunes system, and Microsoft later realised the error of its ways and mimicked Apple with the Zune. (Too late.)
Once again, Gates didn't have much new to announce, so instead he went through a bunch of already announced products, including some of the consumer parts of Vista. Then, he sat down and demonstrated some visions for the operating system of the future, including this strange scene with three monitors and a flat panel device.
Other announcements from the show included a deal with DirecTV to integrate its service into the Xbox in some unspecified way (it never happened) and an HD DVD drive for the Xbox 360 (HD DVD was a short-lived Blu-ray competitor).
Why would you need a server in your home?
To give you a central location for all your media files, of course, so you can access them from any of your home computers. Here, Microsoft totally missed the advantage of using the Internet for this kind of storage -- probably because it was still figuring out its mobile strategy while Apple was on the verge of introducing the iPhone. While Home Server is still around, it never sold very well, and flagship partner HP abandoned it in 2010.
Microsoft literally had nothing new to announce this year, so instead Bill Gates and other execs gave a free ranging speech about their vision of the future.
The keynote was saved by a very funny video about Bill Gates' last day at Microsoft. (Here, he's pumping iron.) Unfortunately, they showed it right at the beginning.
Steve Ballmer used his first CES keynote to announce the beta of Windows 7, Microsoft's much anticipated followup to the disaster that was Windows Vista.
It has proven to be Microsoft's most popular and best received operating system ever, although the entire notion of the Windows PC is under assault from the rise of smartphones and the iPad.
Microsoft also tried to push Windows Mobile, which it was on the verge of abandoning -- a little more than a year later it would take the wraps of the completely different (and much better) Windows Phone platform.
The big new deal in 2010 were slate PCs, a set of new touch-screen tablets running Windows 7. A few weeks later, Apple unveiled the iPad, which was actually designed for use with fingers, and these slate PCs were laughed off as irrelevant.
To be fair, Microsoft also demonstrated Kinect -- later a big hit -- at the 2010 CES, but the product had already been shown almost a year previously at the E3 expo, so it wasn't really new.
Last year, Microsoft made the first big announcement regarding Windows 8: it would work on tablets running ARM processors, which are used in portable devices and are much more energy efficient than the Intel-type chips used in most PCs.
A year later, we still don't know a lot of details about Windows 8 -- including an exact release date -- but Microsoft has demonstrated it running on Intel-based tablets, and its touch screen interface looks pretty good.