Microsoft’s Secret Product Event
Microsoft surprised the tech world Thursday — and ruffled a few journalistic feathers — when it announced a product-unveiling event with only four days notice. The invitation’s language was absurdly lacking in detail, provoking a sense of mystery and anticipation, but also compelling journalists to ask whether a plane trip to Los Angeles was necessary to see the grand unveiling of, well, who knows what.
Indeed, Microsoft’s event invitation didn’t provide many clues, beyond this near-meaningless advisory: “This will be a major Microsoft announcement — you will not want to miss it.”
First off, the event is in Los Angeles. This isn’t exactly the tech capital of the world, but it is our global entertainment capital, so we have to expect that something about the announcement is Hollywood-related.
To provoke the press corps even further, Microsoft refused to share the location of the event until Monday morning at 10 a.m. This is a problem, as Los Angeles is not San Francisco or New York — the town is the definition of sprawl. So if you were a reporter who arrived in Los Angeles on Sunday, you had to take your chances on a hotel location, and hope your lodgings were close to the event.
Well, right on cue at 10 a.m., Microsoft announced that the event would be held at Milk Studios, located at the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and Cahuenga Blvd. This is near Paramount Studios and the Hollywood Forever cemetery — which reinforces speculation that the event is media-focused. Or somehow relates to zombies.
The event itself is believed to be the launching point for a Microsoft tablet, according to TechCrunch’s unnamed sources. If the rumored tablet is heavy on media delivery via rumored Xbox Live streaming, the Los Angeles location actually makes sense. Studio heads love a home-field advantage to share their content.
The Xbox Live service has undergone a media renaissance lately, with the service launching Comcast and HBOGO video-on-demand apps. Of course, the console has had media center capabilities from day one, and the Netflix app has been available on Xbox Live for years. But breaking from the console, and streaming all this Xbox Live content to a tablet, could be a very interesting development for people who’ve already bought into Microsoft’s streaming ecosystem.
There have also been rumors that Microsoft’s recent investment in Barnes & Noble will play a part into today’s announcement. The $300 million investment gives Microsoft a 17.6 percent stake in the book seller’s e-reader company. So, if Microsoft were to release a tablet with any sort of e-reader capabilities, it would make sense for Barnes & Noble to be part of that event.
But alas, according to Dow Jones, Barnes and Noble will not be participating in today’s event. And a spokesperson for the book seller confirmed with Business Insider that B&N isn’t making any announcements today.
A last-minute rumor from a site called shifted2u.com involves a press release for a product called Xbox Surface. The release details two pieces of hardware — a Tablet Computing Device and a Stationary Computing Device. If the news is legit, the tablet will ship with a 7-inch, 1280×720 touch screen with a custom IBM engine for “scale-out workloads” and a paltry 288MB — that’s right, megabytes — of RLDRAM.
The “Stationary Computing Device” will be powered by two IBM Power7 SCMs with six active cores. Fun fact: IBM Power7 chips are IBM’s high-end server chips. Imagine that, a high-end server processing workloads in your living room. The system will also get 5GB of LRDIMM RAM. This is curious given that you can only buy 16GB LRDIMM RAM modules, and that 5GB is an odd number for the amount of RAM on any device.
The icing on the cake is the inclusion of a 250GB, 10,000rpm 2.5-inch SCSI drive. Finally, SCSI is making a comeback.
If Microsoft unveils a tablet today, it would mark the company’s first foray into branded, Windows-running computer hardware. Sure, the company has a rich history in manufacturing computer mice, but currently the the Xbox is the only piece of Microsoft hardware that’s tied to Microsoft software. Direct computer/software integration has worked splendidly for Apple — and now it could work for Microsoft too.
Oddly, Microsoft is also holding a Windows Phone-related event in San Francisco on Wednesday. For journalists who cover the company, it’s a frequent flier miles bonanza — assuming their editors are willing to send reporters up and down California.
But the timing also begs a few questions: Why couldn’t Microsoft just have one event? The Wednesday event was already scheduled, so why add a second event hundreds of miles away? Does a new tablet really justify dragging everyone to LA? We’ll know soon enough. But if Microsoft uses today’s event to announce its Yammer acquisition, be prepared for a huge, collective groan from the press corps, and a lot of very angry journalists waiting for their flights home in LAX.