Updated: Microsoft Cashes Out Of Vegas: 2012 Its Last CES Keynote Speech

Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) has officially opened the Consumer Electronics Show for years with keynotes from Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, but 2012 will be the last year the company graces the CES stage, it announced Wednesday, two and a half weeks before Ballmer’s traditional opening speech.

“We’ll continue to participate in CES as a great place to connect with partners and customers across the PC, phone and entertainment industries, but we won’t have a keynote or booth after this year because our product news milestones generally don’t align with the show’s January timing,” said Frank Shaw, head of Microsoft communications, in a blog post. January has always been kind of a weird time to make a splash in the PC and consumer electronics markets, coming just after the shopping frenzy that tends to accompany the holiday season in the developed world.

Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) dropped its support for Macworld for similar reasons, although the declining health of the late Steve Jobs also pushed its hand to some extent. The sad truth about massive trade shows like CES is that fewer and fewer companies use the events to make big product introductions because it is exceedingly difficult to stand out from the pack: dozens of companies are holding press conferences over the first few days of the conference, and all are competing for attention from a small army of bloggers and journalists desperate for content.

There is still a need for industry-wide gatherings that bring people together to network and cut deals, so it’s hard to see CES fading away too quickly. But like Apple, Microsoft seems to want to do more of its own events, where it can control the timing and presentation of its messages far more tightly than in Las Vegas.

And in perhaps a fitting move, Engadget reports that Microsoft is lowering news expectations for Ballmer’s final keynote by promising more of a “wrap-up” of the year.

Updated: Maybe the Consumer Electronics Association didn’t want Ballmer hogging the spotlight anymore. In an interview with The New York Times, the CEA said that it was the one that invited tech companies to keynote CES, rather than tech companies deciding whether or not they’d like to participate. Jason Oxman of the CEA said the decision was mutual and that there was no bad blood between the two organizations, but you have to wonder who made the first move.