There are two companies that aren't at this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, both literally and figuratively: Microsoft and Research In Motion.
Neither has a physical presence -- meaning a dedicated booth -- having decided after last year's show to go with their own dedicated events. RIM, for its part, is launching its long-awaited new BlackBerry 10 phones at simultaneous media events around the world on Jan. 30.
Microsoft, meanwhile, quit CES after last year’s show, saying it didn’t coincide with its product launch schedules. The software giant recently concluded a busy few months wherein it introduced new versions of Windows for computers, tablets and phones.
But more important than having an actual presence at CES, one of the biggest technology shows in the world, is maintaining mind share there. In this respect, Microsoft and RIM are virtually invisible this year. Meanwhile, Google and Apple — two other tech giants who also aren’t officially exhibiting — are everywhere.
A huge number of devices at this year’s show are coming embedded with a host of connectivity and sensor technologies, all of which are inevitably feeding into applications for tablets and smartphones.
BlackBerry, Windows apps an apparent afterthought
The list of such gizmos is amazingly varied, from robot toys to "smart" internet-connected televisions and appliances to health-care devices to even a fork that measures how many times you bite per minute.
The one thing all these disparate gadgets have in common is that they can be controlled, monitored or programmed through Apple and Android apps.
BlackBerry and Windows apps? For CES exhibitors, they’re an afterthought at best.
"We’re in talks to integrate with [BlackBerry Messenger]
and we’re working on a Windows version," says Jay Samit, president of ooVoo, a video chat service. "But they’re such a niche market."
Both RIM and Microsoft have downplayed their rivals’ sheer app numbers — Apple and Android both boast a far greater total, each around 700,000 — and have instead preached quality over quantity.
But with gadget makers focusing on the two most popular smartphone operating systems — with a "maybe-some-day" attitude on the other two — the companies are falling further and further behind in the consumer world.
For RIM, that may not appear to be as big an issue. With BB10, the Waterloo, Ont.-based company looks to be focusing on its core audience — power business users, rather than the consumers that the "Consumer" Electronics Show caters to.
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Yet with the accleration of the bring-your-own-device trend — where workers are hooking up their own personal phones to corporate networks — RIM is facing a mounting, app-based challenge. Consumers simply want phones that do more stuff and connect to more things.
RIM is smartly building up the services side of its business to cater to this BYOD trend so that it might ulimately be the company that enterprises hire to connect all these varied devices. Its actual device business, however, is increasingly looking like it might get left out in the cold.
To make up for its own shortfall, RIM is also wisely trying to make it easy for Android app developers to port their creations over to BlackBerry. So far, though, developers haven’t exactly flocked to the offer.
The "maybe-someday" attitude of app creators is a bigger problem for Microsoft, which still wants to be part of the consumer world. The software giant still has a presence at this year’s CES in the form of other companies selling computers, phones and tablets running Windows 8. But ironically, those same big multifaceted electronics makers — the likes of Sony, Samsung and Panasonic — aren’t creating Windows apps for their own products.
If the company’s own partners aren’t showing proper faith, that doesn’t bode well for Windows as a platform.