Claiming that the timing of the event meshes poorly with the company’s product launches, Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Corporate Communications Frank X. Shaw announced on Tuesday that after CES 2012, Microsoft would no longer deliver a keynote address or have a large booth at the annual trade fair. CES’s organizers, the Consumer Electronics Association, confirmed that the 2012 keynote would be Microsoft’s fourteenth and last.
Shaw’s explanation appeared to make sense. Microsoft’s major consumer product launches tend to fall in the second half of the year, and next year’s big release—Windows 8—isn’t going to buck that trend. There’s an outside chance that Microsoft might talk Xbox 720 at CES 2012, but that too won’t be launching any time soon. The company’s presence at CES has traditionally been big and expensive, and the company no longer feels it yields a valuable return on that investment.
After the 2011 keynote earlier this year, this was hardly surprising. The 2011 keynote was dominated by a mix of products already on the market—Kinect, Windows Phone—and the Windows-on-ARM processor announcement. Though significant, this announcement had no relevance to consumers or indeed 2011. Windows-on-ARM products will only ship in 2012, and most consumers have little interest in the vagaries of instruction set architectures or system-on-chip designs.
But intrigue was added to this apparently straightforward announcement when GigaOM reported that according to people “inside Microsoft,” the withdrawal was due to CEA refusing to allow Redmond to make the keynote presentation beyond next year. In other words, it wasn’t the software giant’s decision at all. In retaliation, Microsoft pulled its future booth plans.
The story took another twist when The Verge reported said that its sources backed Shaw’s original explanation. CEA tried to get Microsoft to sign on for another three years of keynoting after 2011, but Microsoft refused, signing on for only a single additional year (2012)—showing that the company’s plans to leave the event are long-standing. CEA did want more money for future keynotes, which helped push Microsoft away, but ultimately the decision to leave was Microsoft’s.
Microsoft will still be at future CES events in some capacity to connect to partners, press, and the general public. But big reveals and launches of major products will in the future be made at Microsoft-organized, Microsoft-specific events. Events that happen when Redmond says they should happen, and that make Microsoft products the star of the show.