10th Jan 2013
If there is one technology company whose products have been known to pretty much anyone who has used a computer, it's Microsoft (by sheer merit of the products, or lack of competition, or aggressive marketing — that's a different discussion). No wonder then, that the opening keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show (the 2013 edition of which is currently underway) was delivered by Microsoft for 13 straight years. But that ended in 2012, and this year saw a company whose products are behind the scenes in mobile devices, present the keynote. The thing is, unless you are a technology buff, you would not connect with Qualcomm the way you would with Microsoft.
So Qualcomm tried hard to convince us they are guys who make other guys cool. They tried too hard, and that's what was odd about their keynote (you can relive the entire session here). The keynote opened with a skit showing three Gen M (Generation Mobile, if you may) mobile-addicted youngsters who are perennially connected and repeatedly making a point of it (which got irritating after a while). While it is a known fact that all shows are scripted, from the very onset, this one made it very obvious. Watching the three actors on stage I couldn’t figure out if it was a parody or the real deal. Turns out it wasn’t a spoof, and unfortunately, that is how Qualcomm, which claims itself to be "the first mobile company to open the Consumer Electronics Show", thinks an average mobile user is: Youngsters who may soon need therapy to get a life beyond sharing and liking in the virtual world. Microsoft's earlier keynotes did have their own little drama, but those did not become dominant in the presentation; we can't say the same for this year though.
When the charade finally ended, Qualcomm CEO Paul E Jacobs took centre stage to pat his company's back; gave us facts and figures on how mobile the world has become, and of course, he said the Snapdragon processor is at the heart of it all. Now he is no Steve Ballmer, let alone Steve Jobs, when it comes to public speaking and charm. Jacobs was seemingly out of his skin on stage: He was trying to hard to fit in, and be cool. And then, in a move that surprised everybody, Steve Ballmer came running (literally) onto the stage, showing off some new Windows 8 (Samsung Ativ and Dell XPS) and WP8 devices powered by Snapdragon, and pat Micosoft on its back as well for its 'contributions'. This, after announcing in last year's CES that Microsoft would not be delivering the keynote in 2013. Back to the point, alongside Ballmer, his Nokia 920, and Jacobs' HTC 8X also stole Jacobs' thunder. Mobile or not, Ballmer is effective, more than tolerable, and swift: He sprinted in and jogged out of the stage rather quickly!The first stroke of positivity came in the form of an amazing ad that introduced Qualcomm's next flagship processor, the Snapdragon 800 followed by a quick demo showcasing the capability of the chip: The only time Jacobs appeared comfortable on stage, and knew what he was talking about.
This whole keynote begs the question, did Qualcomm really benefit from the limelight it has garnered at CES? You would not walk in to a mobile store and ask for a Qualcomm chipset now, would you? Is the company planning to launch end-user devices of its own, like say, a Qualcomm mobile phone? This is pure speculation, of course, but we know of two cases in which telecom OEMs have entered the consumer space: HTC and Huawei.
Star Studded Affair
Several star guests came up to help Jacobs highlight each aspect of Qualcomm's plans for 2013. These included names like Guillermo Del Toro (who also used the stage to promote is upcoming flick Pacific Rim), NASCAR champ Brad Keselowski (who demoed a new in-TV NASCAR app), Big Bird (yes the one from Sesame Street, and a sad little writer (!) guy 'Dave' dressed as a electrocuted, featherless 'birdketeer' who demoed the Big Bird's Words app), Desmond Tutu (talking about m-healthcare in South Africa), actress Alice Eve (who was probably the most uncomfortable of the lot, came in to talk about a new Star Trek app), and Maroon 5 (who closed proceedings for the day, and seemed to be prepared to face a tough audience).
All in all, there was something in it for everyone. Annoying teens to shoot at, gory scenes, drool-worthy cinestars, smarter cars, Windows 8 (and WP8) powered devices, an electric Rolls Royce, an annoyingly abusive boy band, and kiddy's stuff too.
Big Bird was the best part of the show: He and birdketeer Dave were the only persons on stage that weren't uncomfortable, out of character, or pretending to fit in! The lowest point was (not even the condescending opening that the band Maroon 5 started on) the fact that only 3 of the 5 came in, and ended with a rather abusive song, called Payphone. Those who caught the event on live streaming online were in for a ruder shock — due to lack of broadcast rights; the music was first replaced by silence, and then a Dido track over the original. Not a nice way to patronise those who couldn’t make it to the event!
[with inputs from Kailas Shastry]