The Surprise of CES: Qualcomm and Steve Ballmer?

Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) had been headlining CES since 1999, but shocked the tech world in late 2011 when it announced that 2012 would be its last year keynoting the technology conference. However, fast-forward to this year's CES keynote, and we once again saw a familiar face bounding onto the stage: Steve Ballmer.

Why did Ballmer surprise attendees to make another appearance? Well, although Microsoft has said it wanted to leave CES because its product launches weren't lined up with the event's early January timing, this year it  falls at a critical time for promoting Windows 8 ultrabooks, convertibles, and tablets. Beyond Windows 8, Windows Phone itself is also looking for promotion and greater market acceptance.

However, a chance for Ballmer to promote Windows is a win-win scenario for another company: this year's keynote speaker Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM  ) . Qualcomm has little market share in tablets in spite of its dominance in smartphones, and announced its high-end new Snapdragon 800 series aimed at both Windows RT-powered PCs and tablets. For Qualcomm, any PC sales are a nice boon to its high-end processor line as the PC continues to morph into a more portable, connected device.

Some could read Ballmer's appearance as Microsoft passing off the torch to a leader of the new mobile age. Another way to look at it is that Microsoft is just one of many players in a world of connected devices. In that case, Qualcomm's the kingpin that profits no matter who wins.

To see analyst Eric Bleeker's full thoughts on Ballmer appearing onstage at Qualcomm's keynote, watch the video below.

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