I should have seen this coming but as the two events approached and those of us missioned to cover both got more and more annoyed that we couldn’t be two places at once we forgot all about the competition aspect. Almost like watching two groups from Glee competing for attention we had the Steve Jobs keynote which was somewhat lackluster running against Microsoft Xbox Kinect update at E3 (E3 is the big gaming conference) launch events ever.
What was almost surreal was that the applause at both events almost seemed synchronized and it was almost a mind bending moment when folks at the Xbox event cheered for being able to wield light sabers in Star Wars Kinect while the folks at the Apple event cheered 3,000 new APIs. Clearly the folks at the Apple event had no idea what they were missing, I mean seriously, light sabers?
Let’s explore the warring Keynotes (others are doing detailed content, I’ll chat about impressions).
Steve Jobs Keynote that Wasn’t
Steve Jobs was on stage presenting about 30 minutes out of the 2 hour keynote and the event didn’t have the tight feel of a Steve Jobs coordination or hype. The way you tell that is by what folks were saying after the event. After a Steve Jobs choreographed event, even if there is little content, folks walk away with stars in their eyes and thinking the world changed. At this event the most common two comments I noticed was that “Apple was catching up to Google/Android” and “RIM was dead”.
The “one more thing” surprise was iCloud Match a service that gave you the rights to the music you already have for $25 a year. Not a true subscription service because it doesn’t supply new songs which you still would have to rip from CDs or buy from iTunes. More like insurance against getting sued by the RIAA. Somehow the idea that for $25 a year you could pirate all the music you wanted seemed an interesting message but I’ll stay with my Slacker and Rhapsody subscriptions instead thank you very much.
It was clear that Steve Jobs purpose in being on stage wasn’t to create demand for Apple’s products as is usually the case when he is speaking it was to showcase he still could get on stage even if it were for only 30 minutes.
In the end there were no knockout punches from Apple but they closed off competitive disadvantages with Google and made good deal of progress against Android which has been kicking their (and everyone else’s) butt of late.
Xbox: Kicking it Old School
The Xbox presentation had some OS aspects to it and Microsoft showcased an update to the user interface that brought this platform more in line with the coming Windows 8, Windows Phone 7, and Zune. Showcasing improvements in media content access this platform is starting to look like the King of all set-top-boxes.
Kinect, their hands free controller technology, is coming into its own and they showcased a variety of games that would make use of it. Most compelling was Star Wars Kinect where the light saber battles appeared stunning, but Kinect Disneyland Adventures was hot (at least to this ex-Disney employee), and hand to hand combat in a number of titles looked particularly engaging. Coolest was likely Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon: Future Soldier where you can build a custom weapon using the Kinect interface. One of the most interesting was Fable III, which could turn out to be a hit or a miss, on the hit side you actually cast spells with hand gestures on the miss side the fact you follow a preset path (lack freedom of movement). Mass Effect 3 had a great use of voice both for ordering your computer generated teammates around and choosing options.
They showcased updates to Dance Central (the game that showcases I can’t dance) and an update to Sports Central the other initial Kinect hit. Not to leave children out or adults how like to look really, really stupid, was Once Upon a Monster from Sesame Street. Let’s just say it likely won’t appeal to my age group, thank god, unless we are really plastered.
Wrapping Up: The Battle in my Head
It is clear that Apple wasn’t aware that E3 was featuring Microsoft and the Xbox folks could care less about Apple so this wasn’t a real competition. However the contrast showcases the similarities and differences in both companies. When Microsoft does the hardware and has a significant budget to market it, they can capture the imagination with the best of them, including Apple. I mean people were cheering shared calendars for Christ sakes. When Apple’s CEO isn’t 100 percent and they don’t have that much to talk about, well they are kind of boring. Both companies should likely learn from the contrast, Microsoft needs to hit them out of the park more and Apple needs a post Steve Jobs plan that is better than “we’ll deal with it when it happens”.
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President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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