Quick Thoughts: Day 1 and Boy, Are My Feet Tired …


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  • Microsoft dog and pony emphasis on Metro as a unified interface suggests they “get it”
  • Consultant led panel on “over the top” TV suggests that many companies don’t “get it”
  • C/Net names “The Ecosystem” as the next big thing – we obviously agree
  • BIG battle brewing over who manages consumer access to internet based content

Reportedly, there are 140,000 people here at CES in Las Vegas, and I estimate that at least 5,000 are technology bloggers.  In hopes that I can rise above the chatter, here is my take on day one, which really began with Steve Ballmer’s keynote last night.  As usual, there was the de rigeur celebrity drop in – this time, Ryan Seacrest, who really does have too many jobs – and the obligatory demo flub – another voice recognition error, at least they could have been original.  Given that Microsoft had no real announcements for the show, Ballmer covered familiar ground as he methodically worked through his consumer end markets.  The emphasis was on the Metro user interface, common to Windows Phone, the upcoming Windows 8 and in the near future, X-Box.  Even though the operating systems in each of these cases is different, the user experience is tied together via Metro, and Microsoft is endeavoring to assure application continuity across the platforms as well, meaning, if it works one way on a Windows Smartphone, it should work the same way on a Windows 8 tablet or ultrabook.  This makes a lot of sense, particularly if Microsoft can create common APIs across the platforms to minimize the burden for developers.

Another thing that makes sense is Microsoft’s decision to support ARM based processors for Windows 8 on equal terms to the traditional x86 architecture.  Whispers abound that ARM support will be late, but these are categorically denied by Microsoft and the ARM chip community – e.g. Qualcomm, Nvidia and Marvell – so it seems plausible that these whispers began with wishful thinking from the x86 camp.  As for Windows 8, the demo ultrabooks in many of the booths are quite impressive, looking as thought they could give the MacBook Air a run for its money, while effectively blurring the distinction between laptops and tablets.  A tablet with a keyboard is analogous to a smartphone with a keyboard, which has been a significant piece of smartphone demand, even since the advent of touchscreen interfaces.  Viewed in that context, I think Windows 8 Ultrabooks could establish an important niche in the expanding tablet market.

Jumping to this afternoon, and skipping Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs keynote, which was entertaining and inspiring, but didn’t break much new ground beyond a contest to create a Star Trek “Tricorder” for facilitating consumer self-examination and diagnosis using wireless networks, I skipped lunch to attend a panel on Internet TV hosted by Informa, an industry consulting firm that focuses on the communications industry.  The panel, which included representatives from AT&T U-Verse, Sony, Cox Cable and Google’s YouTube, proceeded from Informa’s supposition that the end game for Internet TV will be a big negotiated settlement where everyone can win.  The U-Verse guy led off with AT&T’s plans to define the user experience on their own terms and publish open APIs for developers.  Good luck with that.  Prompted, most on the panel agreed that TV Everywhere was a great idea, with only YouTube offering the slightest dissention.  Interestingly, there were no content network companies to be found, much less anyone that actually creates the content from scratch.  I obviously don’t expect the outcome of “over the top” to be détente that preserves the structure of channelized TV, and I don’t believe that the existing TV distributors – AT&T and Cox amongst them – will retain their role as customer gatekeepers long into the future.  Read more about that HERE.

Finally, C/Net presented its annual “The Next Big Thing” to an overflow audience.  This year, the next big thing is “The Ecosystem” and by the ecosystem, C/Net means the coordination of multiple companies, each delivering part of the total solution, to provide an integrated infotainment experience for consumers.  TV on the phone, internet on the TV, appliances networked in and controlled via a tablet, blah, blah, blah.  Google’s Eric Schmidt dropped in, taking issue with the allegation that Android was fragmented, and expressed great confidence that Google’s ecosystem strategy would be the only one that could really deliver the uber-connected world envisioned by C/Net.  Samsung America’s Tim Baxter talked about Samsung being a member of multiple ecosystems, while carving out added value for itself.  And Bill Gurley of Benchmark Capital and Blake Kirkorian, late of Sling Media, talked about the opportunities for small companies to innovate and prosper as parts of these ecosystems.  All of this is exactly what I have been writing about since 2010, so I wholeheartedly support the perspectives raised in the discussion, with the possible exception of the opportunity for hardware device makers to add a lot of value without also controlling the customer’s cloud experience.  You can read more about our consumer cloud perspective HERE.

Tomorrow is another day, with presentations by a panel of automakers about the future of electronics in the car and a presentation by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.  I’ll also spend a lot more time on the floor, and should have some more comments about the future of the TV and Ultrabooks.

For our full research notes, please visit our published research site.

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