Maybe Microsoft should have shown up to CES 2013

The software giant opted out of a keynote and booth at the Las Vegas electronics show this year, but now that Microsoft makes its own tablets, it's the first year it really makes sense to be there.

Ryan Seacrest chats with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at 2012 CES. James Martin/CNET
LAS VEGAS--It's getting more popular for companies to bail on the Consumer Electronics Show, but at least one should reconsider: Microsoft.

When the Las Vegas gadget conference kicks off this week, it will be missing the longtime CES presenter that declared 2012 to be its last hurrah at the show.

Microsoft doesn't really need CES to get attention for its products, but the company should have stuck it out one more year. Sure, the show is big and noisy and expensive, but Microsoft is trying to turn itself into a major computer hardware vendor with its Surface tablet. And it just held one of the biggest launches for a release of its operating system of all time, Windows 8. Both should be reason enough to present at CES.

"Right now people pretty much have the opinion that Windows 8 wasn't a disaster, but it didn't excite the market like previous versions of Windows have done," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy. "Microsoft should be there showing people the great things they can do with Windows 8 in the next six to nine months."

Many companies have reconsidered their presence at CES, which is a large and costly event whose onslaught of announcements creates so much noise that some fear being drowned out. Companies that can swing it have been looking at smaller, individual events where they don't have to compete with other news. And many have been looking to emulate the model made successful by Apple -- generating a lot of buzz for special events that make the news.

Microsoft was a longtime key participant at CES, giving a keynote and hosting a booth for nearly 20 years. However, the company said in late 2011 that it had decided to scale back its presence at the show, largely because its product milestones didn't align with CES's timing. Microsoft's recent steps to be more like Apple -- opening retail stores, hosting mystery events, controlling hardware and software -- also likely factored into its decision.

But presenting at CES 2013 would have made a lot of sense for Microsoft. This is the first year the company is selling its own computer hardware in the form of its Surface tablet. It launched the Windows RT version of Surface in October, and the Windows 8 Surface Pro model should appear later this month. CES could have marked a key place to give more details about Surface Pro and show off both versions of the tablet.

In addition, Windows 8 and Windows RT started selling in late October. While it's unlikely that Microsoft would have any big updates to the software so soon after launch, the company could have used CES to unveil new, innovative apps for the operating system or to give a glimpse into upcoming new features.

It also could have helped its PC partners talk up their products. Some computer companies will be unveiling new devices at CES, but most really won't have much to show. That's partly because they just announced new products for the Windows 8 launch and partly because the industry is suffering a crisis as tablets eat into sales. If Microsoft wants to spur excitement for the struggling computer industry, CES could have been a way to do so.

To be sure, Microsoft has been getting enough attention with its own events. And while CES keynotes offer a huge platform for companies to unveil new products, Microsoft in reality has shied away from big announcements at the event. And even though Microsoft won't have as large a presence, it will still be at CES in some capacity.

The Consumer Electronics Association, which hosts CES, said Microsoft has by-invitation-only private meeting rooms and will be sponsoring the show's Innovation awards display, the CES Hackathon, and MyCES stations. Microsoft also will likely have a strong advertising presence at CES, even sponsoring some of CNET's programming.

A Microsoft spokesperson said that while the company won't have a keynote or official booth at CES, it will still use the show as a way to support its partners.

"We will continue to participate in CES as a way to connect with the industry and our partners, as many key hardware and software partners use the show for specific news moments and we will certainly work with them as appropriate," Microsoft said.

It's unlikely Microsoft will rethink its decision to ditch CES. But maybe it should.

 

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