The 360 is turning into more of an all-purpose living room machine, and the Kinect is blowing up. That’s the takeaway from the Ballmer keynote here at CES. They’ve sold a huge amount of Kinect — 8 million, far more than the 5 million they predicted, and which we were all skeptical of. But it’s a surprise hit and I think that’s indicative of both its unique appeal (even the haters have to admit it’s unique) and the growing importance of a powerful box in the living room.
Avatar Kinect? A fancy toy, and I’m not buying it. But I’m not the target audience. I’d rather have the hands-free media control. Either way, though, it’s more stuff the 360 can do, and the central hub for media, games, and communication is obviously becoming a popular and contentious product category.
There was also another demo of the new Surface we saw earlier, but I’m disappointed to see that it’s being reserved for commercial applications, like the first one. My god, Microsoft! You’ve got something genuinely original and fun to use, and you’re restricting it to casino lobbies!
The keynote wasn’t much of a blockbuster, though to be honest Microsoft has rarely attempted to bust blocks. They’re about building platforms, and then building on those platforms. What do you do when your platforms pass out of vogue? Xbox still has room to grow, but WP7 will never achieve the reach of Windows Mobile, the popularity of iOS, or the increasing ubiquity of Android. What about Windows? It’s selling like hotcakes, but as I argued, they need to change or the decline will be apparent.
The expansion to ARM and SOCs is a little late but still savvy for Microsoft. It’s something that needed to happen eventually, and hopefully we’ll see it pan out. The Wintel hegemony has been around for a long time, and it’s long past due for disruption. I won’t say they’ve disrupted themselves, but at least they didn’t wait until they were completely backed into a corner. The moves they make at those times tend to be like those a cornered animal makes: desperate and savage. Like Windows Mobile 6.5.
It was more, as it usually is, a “state of Microsoft” than a blast of new stuff. The advances Ballmer described will make some ripples, but when will they make waves again?