Thoughts on Microsoft’s CES Keynote Part 1: Xbox+Kinect

Disclaimer: If you dislike my opinions against Microsoft’s convoluted consumer strategy, you may want to skip my next series of posts with the above title. I prefer Microsoft products, but I strongly believe they are headed to irrelevance in the consumer space if they continue along this path.

CES2011

Microsoft’s Keynote at CES by CEO Steve Ballmer has come and gone. I watched the event live and even before I was done, I was ready to throw something at the screen! I can sum it in up in two words, utter disappointment! I’m sure this post and the next ones in this series will lead to comments that “Rush the drama queen is at it again” but  I think it is a high time for someone in the Microsoft fanbase to say, “the emperor is not wearing any clothes!” I have spent the past few days writing, rewriting, reading, trying to find a positive spin from the whole event but no avail. Paul Thurrott, a strong MS follower, has come a similar conclusion in his latest post, Windows Everywhere? Wake Up, Microsoft! It’s 2011!

For a consumer focused event, Microsoft brought nothing dramatic apart from obvious things like gesture control for Netflix and Hulu Plus on the  Xbox, news of updates for Windows phone 7 including copy and paste, and CDMA phones coming in the first of the year. The new products previewed namely Surface 2.0 and Windows on ARM and SoC will not be available directly to consumer or the next few years. They showed Windows 7 based tablets/slates again! more on that later, which will suffer the same fate as the previous x number of Windows tablets over the past decade.

Xbox+Kinect

Mr. Ballmer started out by rattling of impressive numbers for the Kinect Sensor of 8 million units sold, way above the project 5 million estimate and 50 million Xbox consoles sold worldwide. Then came news of the addition of gesture control for Netflix and Hulu plus along more content from ESPN. These were things they should have implemented at launch so I don’t consider it revolutionary. What I wanted to hear were the fixes to the flaws on the console which include…

  • The inability to read external NTFS formatted drives
  • Enable gesture control for the whole UI not just portions of it.
  • Extensive file support like Boxee or WD TV live
  • An Xbox 360 Windows phone 7 remote app similar to the iPhone remote app
  • The Avatar Kinect was cute but why would anyone over the age of 12 want to use it instead of actual video Kinect chat? I would have preferred to see group video chat like Skype instead
  • There is no web browser on the console. Is it really that hard to implement?
  • Where are the 3rd party apps like YouTube, Twit.tv home automation, etc and SDK for developers to make this possible?
  • DLNA capability to stream videos and pictures from WP7 phones or other compatible devices to the Xbox wirelessly
  • Blu Ray support thru an external drive
  • A pictures and video hub similar to WP7 where pictures and videos from local and online services like Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, SkyDrive existed with the ability to add comments.
  • Nothing was ever demoed or mentioned about Mediaroom or Xbox 360+ att uverse
  • Paul Thurrott has more things MS can do to fix the Xbox 360 in 2011 here

For all the Xbox 360 capabilities, Microsoft has done a poor job marketing its multimedia features. I have had the opportunity to setup a few consoles for friends and relatives whom I convinced to purchase the Xbox with Kinect, most who had no idea that the device could do so much more than just play video games. They were particularly impressed with Video Kinect and the ability to watch and record live TV using the Windows Media Center Interface from an attached Windows 7 computer equipped with a TV tuner. They also enjoyed being able to view photos and (compatible) videos from their computers right in their living room.

I think this is one instance where Sony has done a great job with their PS3, It does everything campaign. In addition, although Sony’s Move controller has not done as well as the Kinect, the company still has a strong presence outside the US as this article indicates. With an install base of 50 million consoles, Microsoft has a huge advantage over Apple TV, Google TV and all the new entrants who showcased their products at CES, in the battle for consumer’s living rooms. It is now up to them to play their cards right and speed up their development process to match that of their nimble competitors. Whether that happens before its too late remains to be seen.

Next Windows Phone 7

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