CES is back. From the look of things, attendance is much stronger than it was last year, even though concerns about the latest Covid 19 variant have kept folks like me away again. What interested me early on was the contrast between NVIDIA’s and AMD’s keynotes. For once, NVIDIA’s CEO was absent (except as a virtual avatar) and the keynote was canned (and streamed). The AMD keynote was led by its CEO in person with an audience and was promoted by CES leadership.
Let’s contrast the two events and how the two once-similar companies are starting to significantly diverge in terms of focus and strategy. We’ll take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each unique approach.
NVIDIA’s keynote was delivered before CES actually opened, it was not sanctioned or supported by CES and it was streamed. Advantages to this approach are that it came before any of its competitors presented, thus setting the tone and, by going first and outside of the wave of announcements that would follow, it would likely be better remembered than pitches buried in the mass that was to come.
By having the product leadership, rather than the CEO, drive the announcements, it provided a better sense of NVIDIA’s breadth and changing focus as the firm moves from being a GPU parts vendor to becoming a mostly software-defined solutions vendor focused on AI and the metaverse which it arguably dominates. Morphing into an end-to-end solutions provider allows the company to better direct the future it will play in, thus better assuring the outcome will benefit the firm.
I recall a presentation years ago by the then Sun Microsystems CTO on the future of computing. He was ecstatic about changes Sun wasn’t driving that would, in his opinion, cripple Microsoft. The issue he missed was that those same trends would and did destroy Sun. So, controlling the trends having a major impact on your industry is important if you don’t want to end up like Sun did.
By producing a canned version of its keynote, NVIDIA was better able to assure the production quality of the event (you can do retakes) and the overall quality of the presentation set a high bar.
AMD CEO Lisa Su was the main presenter of the AMD keynote which was presented live in front of a huge audience after CES was underway, and AMD got direct support from CES because of that. The advantage to this approach is that the CEO can better present a cohesive view of company strategy by weaving the different parts of the company into a better and more complete story. In addition, the live audience not only showcases interest better, but it provides energy to the presenters and creates a deeper sense of engagement even among remote attendees. There was one guest who clearly needed to rehearse more, but otherwise, even though the event was live, the quality remained high thanks to decent stage management and, with that one exception, well-rehearsed speakers.
AMD remains a parts vendor which means it supports the solutions of others. AMD’s pitch used third party partners heavily who are better at validating a vendor’s claims than the vendor is. This heavy use of partners also drove home the point that AMD’s strength is more in a support role. Everyone who came on stage seemed to genuinely like the company and Lisa Su. Partnering often defines this segment where companies like Microsoft and Intel rose to fame and power through partnerships, which validates AMD’s approach. The use of these third parties gave the presentation greater depth than is typically the case with an AMD pitch (which historically has been less about solutions and more about speeds and feeds).
Microsoft’s pitch from its CPO, Panos Panay, was particularly interesting because it effectively teased Windows 12 and a massive new focus on AI for that coming product, and praised AMD’s unique approach of putting its AI engine in the CPU rather than separate (Qualcomm) or in the GPU (NVIDIA), claiming this was the better approach.
For AMD, which has a history of operating under Intel’s shadow, this third-party validation of its design wins and success goes a long way to validating AMD’s current leadership and better assuring it can hold the beachheads it has created over the last few years.
NVIDIA, which is transitioning to more of a software-based solutions vendor, used an approach that best showcased its evolving nature and strengths in terms of driving the future. AMD’s approach, which is more consistent with what it is, showcased its continued support roles, the importance of its partners, and the partners’ creation of what might be a different future.
Each approach was uniquely beneficial to the differing natures of the firms, though, I think the use of a live audience would have been better (if possible) for both firms until the metaverse approach to a virtual event matures (or becomes viable). More vision from AMD would have been beneficial to the company but, overall, both firms optimized for differing strategies and executed well this year.
And with regard to vision, both seem to agree that AI will be a game changer on the desktop and in the cloud going forward. They’ll just approach their related strategies in ways that are more tied to who they are than who their competition is. And that is best practice.