Microsoft dropping CES – part of Steve Jobs’ legacy?

Steve Ballmer.

Earlier this morning, Microsoft made waves by announcing that it would be pulling out of the Consumer Electronics Show. The announcement was made by Frank Shaw, Microsoft’s head of communications, on the company blog. CEA, the organization that runs CES, claims the opposite, that they chose to give Microsoft the boot. In any case, this is a pretty serious blow to the trade show, and it points to the growing sentiment that trade shows have lost their relevance. As I’m sure some of you remember, Apple did essentially the same thing when it backed out of MacWorld in 2008.

Really, it doesn’t much matter who dropped whom; the end result is the same. CES just took a huge hit, and it’s a hit the CEA should have seen coming. For my part, I’m willing to bet Microsoft backed out. As the company stated, their product releases haven’t lined up with CES keynotes, which is certainly true. There was this other company that held its own keynotes for major product releases, where it would show off finalized versions of products that were ready to ship the same day. You know, that company with the second largest market cap in the world. I’m sure you know who I’m talking about.

Also, as the CEA, why kick Microsoft off the keynote? Who will take their place? Remember, this is the CES. This isn’t a developer’s conference. There won’t be major web properties making keynotes for CES. So who fills Microsoft’s space? More importantly, who forks over the cash to do so knowing the CEA may give them the boot next year? No one. That’s who.

If anything, Microsoft is trying to take control of its hype cycle, in exactly the same way Steve Jobs took control of Apple’s. There is one key difference – the products. Microsoft hasn’t gotten into the hardware game, which makes a product keynote much duller than the Apple counterpart. So much of Apple’s product launch success is tied into showing off a complete product. Microsoft can’t do that, at least not without the help of manufacturers, and manufacturer issues remain a huge source of complaint against Microsoft products. Still, I think moving to Microsoft-sponsored events gives the company a chance to more closely connect with its own fanbase, which Microsoft could really use.

The idea that the CEA would kick Microsoft just makes no sense. Trade shows have been losing traction for years. The last thing the CES needs is a disappearing act from one of the biggest draws for the show.

  

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The Future of Apple: Steve Jobs, Siri, and the iPhone 4S

The Future of Apple.

It may seem late in the year to take a look back on the death of Steve Jobs and the legacy he left behind. We’re more than a month out at this point, which even to me feels more like a year, but I think this is a good time for it. The iPhone 4S is now sweeping across the world, faster than most expected, bringing us one of those strange and uniquely Apple experiences, Siri. A lot of people thought the iPhone 4S was the wrong product to launch after Jobs stepped down from his position at the helm. To me, though, the iPhone 4S was maybe the last brilliant move from Jobs, with Siri giving us a look at the new Apple.

This won’t be a shining eulogy to Jobs as the greatest technological mind of our time. That’s not really my place and frankly, I don’t think it’s very accurate. My only point here is that Jobs left the world as he lived in it – carefully and intentionally.

The iPhone 4S was definitely a disappointing announcement for a lot of people. We had been hearing about the iPhone 5 for long enough that, in the light of Steve’s retirement, it seemed inevitable the iPhone 5 was the announcement to make. With Jobs gone, Apple needed to send a message that it was still plowing ahead, right? That it would be at the forefront of technology, always pushing to deliver the next great thing, right?

No. That has never been Apple. Apple has never been first to market. That’s not what Apple does. Apple is not about being the first anything on the market. Apple is about being the most complete experience on the market. When the iPod first launched there were dozens of MP3 players to compete with. The difference, of course, was iconic design and a simplified interface. It was simply better than the alternatives. The iPhone was no different, and please, let’s remember what the iPhone was like when it originally launched. You know, before the App Store. The product has definitely come a long way – Apple’s market cap is a testament to that – but when it launched it was simply a cleaner, more stylized, more complete way of doing things.

It’s also important to remember how Apple launches a product. It does so regardless of hype. It does so without even considering our expectations. Apple releases products when they are ready and that’s a big part of the company’s success. The iPad was a success at launch because it was a complete product. It wasn’t something pushed to market just to have a tablet. The iPad was actually late to the tablet game, but it has since gone on to define that segment of the market.

This is the Apple the world knows and loves. It is methodical. It is plodding. It is sometimes downright slow. But it is also beautiful and well-crafted and damn fun to use. In the wake of Steve Jobs’ death, that’s the Apple I hoped to see. When Apple starts pumping products out faster than you can buy them, then Apple is no longer Apple. The iPhone 4S is a quintessential Jobs-era product. It is an improvement on an already functioning piece of technology. It is beautiful. It is damn fun to use. It is only slightly more powerful than its predecessor but it’s still selling millions of units.

The truly weird part of Apple’s iPhone 4S announcement was Siri, a new digital assistant that launched as a beta. While Siri seems great when it works, it certainly doesn’t work well all the time. That’s the difference between Jobs’ Apple and Tim Cook’s Apple. I won’t say that Jobs wouldn’t release Siri in its current form. He might have. But if I had to make a bet, I’d say this was Cook’s call.

That’s not to say I think Tim Cook can’t keep Apple on top of the tech world. He will. If anything, the iPhone 4S proves that. It’s a conservative play from a traditionally conservative company, even under new leadership. It’s exactly the kind of product Jobs would launch with just a taste of something new. This is the future of Apple – solid products with just a taste of something new.

  

New Denon Headphones

With the holidays behind us, many of you are enjoying the new gadget gifts you received, including iPods and iPads. One way to maximize these and other music players involves upgrading the headphones, and Denon sent us several samples to try out, including the AH-D510R Over-Ear Headphone pictured above and the AH-C560R In-Ear Headphone pictured below. Both sets are part of Denon’s exclusive Mobile Elite series.

I was impressed with both units. Naturally, the expectations on sound quality were higher for the over-ear headphones and the AH-D510R delivered excellent sound quality, particularly when you consider the $99.99 retail price. The AH-D510R features Denon’s Acoustic Optimizer system, which provides equal ambient air pressure on both sides of the diaphragm for naturally balanced sound. In addition, the earpieces feature Denon’s exclusive Hybrid Metal Housing technology, which combines machined aluminum alloy with resonance-free resin. It matched up well with a much higher-priced set of headphones I use regularly. The headphones are large as you might expect and they don’t come with a travel case, so using them for travel might be a little difficult.

The AH-C560R In-Ear Headphone was also impressive, though I’m partial to the better sound quality from over-ear headphones. I’ll take better sound over convenience any day. That said, everyone needs in-ear headphones in our portable world and this Denon set offers a solid option. For the $99.99 retail price retail price you also get a handy, compact carrying case along with a number of alternate foam tips that make it easier to find a good fit for your ears.

Both sets feature an inline three button remote on the cord that can control select iPod and iPhone models, and includes a microphone that lets you record voice memos with select iPod models and answer calls with select iPhone models. With the inline remote, you can control volume level as well as play, pause, forward and back functions. This handy feature adds nice value, particularly if you own Apple products.

You can’t go wrong with the Denon headphones, and if you really want to enjoy your new music gadgets, check out our Bullz-Eye music reviews as well for some great new music suggestions.

  

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