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This past December, Microsoft announced that the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show would be its last -- a surprising move for a company that has cast such a dominating shadow over the trade show for the last decade. As the tech giant struggles to reposition itself in a rapidly changing consumer marketplace, it's the only move that makes sense.
As Apple has seen fit to point out, maintaining a product release schedule mandated by the advent of an annual trade show is, well, insane. Innovation cannot be measured or planned to the day. To provide consumers and pundits with a guaranteed peek at what you're working on before it's ready, or worse, deploy a product into the market place before it's ready is just asking for trouble. Just look at Windows Vista, RIM's Blackberry Playbook, or the iPhone 4 and its legendary antenna woes and you'll grasp what we're talking about. Apple twigged to this, and now releases their products and services when it feel it's ready to face the uncompromising scrutiny of the consuming public.
After suffering a number of painful fiscal failures over the past few years -- the Zune, the Kin, and a slower than expected adoption rate of Windows 7 -- Microsoft has finally seen fit to circle their wagons, and with good reason. In our opinion, 2012 will be a make or break year for the Redmond-based company.
Don't get us wrong, Microsoft's not hurting. Far from it: Despite the gains made by Apple over the past few years in the area of personal computer sales, the company's overall world dominance of the PC market is still unquestionable, thanks to the huge number of Whitebox Windows OEM installations and in-store purchases of the operating system. The same can be said of the company's productivity suite. Despite its steep price point and many faults, nothing comes close to competing with Microsoft Office when it comes to sales. But the company still can't seem to get a handle on the increasingly vital mobile technology market. Given the amount of cash consumer and enterprise users have thrown at tablets, smartphones and mobile apps over the past year, this lack of understanding could be a serious hurdle to Microsoft's continued success and relevancy.
There's little doubt that Microsoft recognizes its shortcomings in this area. Though it was successful in entering the gaming market, it fell short when attempting to penetrate the already saturated mobile market. As such, the intriguingly lackluster Zune music player was cancelled this past year as a hardware partnership with Nokia was brokered, and the company's Windows Phone 7 mobile operating system, while attractive and functional, has failed to capture the imagination of consumers or developers. As a possible fix for this, there's a good chance that Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system, which was originally envisioned as a unified OS for tablets, laptops, and desktop computers, may be extended to operate on appropriately specced smartphone hardware as well. And why not? The operating system's Metro interface is insanely touch-friendly, as far away from the company's horrible Windows 7 touch interface features as the original iPhone was from the Apple Paladin.
Following in Apple's now trade show-free footsteps, Microsoft, free from the prying eyes of pundits and the public, could finally produce a unified product offering that consumers, enterprise users, and the media could all get excited about. That's a win for everyone, even devoted Apple aficionados and fanboys. After all, competition breeds innovation, and pushes forces everyone to up their game -- Cupertino included. We'll just have to wait and see what Microsoft's got in store for us tonight at its last and finaly CES keynote.