What we can learn from what didn’t happen at CES

Last week’s weekly update was entitled Things that didn’t happen, and what that means, which was directed toward 2013 in retrospect. I am keeping to that theme this week, and trying to read between the lines of the non-event that CES seemed to be last week. Here’s a tweet I posted on the 8th, where I said:

Screenshot 2014-01-13 08.14.27

[Note that the American Dialect Society chose that way of using 'because' as the word of the year. Ben Zimmer, the chairman of the New Word Committee said,

“No longer does ‘because’ have to be followed by of or a full clause,” he said in a statement. “Now one often sees tersely worded rationales like ‘because science’ or ‘because reasons.’ You might not go to a party ‘because tired.’ As one supporter put it, ‘because’ should be word of the year ‘because useful!’ ”

Also note that last year, Ben Zimmer was the one that did the sleuthing to determine that I was, in fact, the person who coined the term 'hashtag', as a result of discussions with Chris Messina and others about his 'Twitter channels' idea, now known as 'hashtags'.

I am biased, but I think 'hashtag' is bigger than 'because', because hashtags.]

Notably absent from CES are the dominant players in the technologies that underlie the modern workforce, and which are impelling new changes in the structure and shape of work.

Microsoft wasn’t there, although it might have been a good place to announce a successor to Ballmer: the company seems to be endlessly circling the airport, running out of fuel, never landing. And the rumors about ‘Threshold’ — the next big release of Windows — underscore the terrible response they are getting to Windows 8:

Paul Thurrott, “Threshold” to be Called Windows 9, Ship in April 2015

Windows 8 is tanking harder than Microsoft is comfortable discussing in public, and the latest release, Windows 8.1, which is a substantial and free upgrade with major improvements over the original release, is in use on less than 25 million PCs at the moment. That’s a disaster, and Threshold needs to strike a better balance between meeting the needs of over a billion traditional PC users while enticing users to adopt this new Windows on new types of personal computing devices. In short, it needs to be everything that Windows 8 is not.

[...]

In some ways, the most interesting thing about Threshold is how it recasts Windows 8 as the next Vista. It’s an acknowledgment that what came before didn’t work, and didn’t resonate with customers. And though Microsoft will always be able to claim that Windows 9 wouldn’t have been possible without the important foundational work they had done first with Windows 8—just as was the case with Windows 7 and Windows Vista—there’s no way to sugarcoat this. Windows 8 has set back Microsoft, and Windows, by years, and possibly for good.

Two comments: 1/ Way too late to stem the defections of Windows users to iOS and Android tablet, and 2/ this is a canonical example of a dominant company being disrupted because it cannot stop trying to support the past successful model. If Microsoft is going to hold onto *any* territory in office applications — Word, Excel, Powerpoint — they need to get them on other platforms ASAP, and not pretend that companies and individuals will wait until April 2015 for Microsoft to really fix Windows 8.

This could be the end of Office, and that completely undercuts Microsoft’s potential role as a leader in the work management marketplace.

The weak market response to Xbox is not a direct impact on Microsoft’s enterprise solutions, but Sony’s strong lead in this generation’s console wars — selling three to one over Xbox — is an argument for spinning Xbox out as a separate company or selling it, and focusing away from consumer technology.

Last week Google stepped in it, with an unartful power play that opened up the possibility of Google+ users being able to send email to Google+ IDs that they didn’t have email addresses for. And they made it an opt out option (see Google’s broken social strategy with Google+ and Gmail). This had all the maladroit insensitivity that accompanied the conversion of Youtube comments to requiring Google+ IDs. It seems that Google has a plan to infiltrate Google+ into everything, even if we don’t want it forced down our throats.

I wrote about the rise of wearables and how that might play out in the workplace (see Bring Your Own Wearable), even though all the wearable that debuted at CES last week seem far too clunky and limited. I made the case that wearables will accelerate BYOD by increasing the value of smartphones without increasing their risks, and that this is going to also lead to an increased desire to move to the cloud, and decrease IT staff headcount. BYOW only awaits the arrival of iWatch and a few compelling android tools, like a low-cost, more mature Google Glass. This will be as large a change for the workforce and the way of work as the desktop revolution was in the ’90s.

A week of missteps and rumors instead of world-beating debuts and announcements, which suggests that CES is becoming just another Comdex, a conference that faded as the big players decided it was no longer cost effective, and stayed home or just rented suites to hold meetings. It appears the same is happening with CES, today.

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Stowe Boyd

Stowe Boyd

researcher-at-large Stowe Boyd

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