Ballmer Highlights Magical Microsoft Metro UI, Phones, Kinect in CES Keynote

Rehash of old news makes for uneventful presentation, Microsoft's last at CES (at least for the present).

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's final keynote at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show was upstaged on Monday night by Sesame Street's Cookie Monster.

Ballmer's dialog with personality Ryan Seacrest was featured in the keynote, as was Tami Reller, Windows chief marketing officer, who discussed Windows 8 basics. Two product managers presented Microsoft's Metro-style user interface used in Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8; Microsoft considers the UI a central, unifying experience across applications, videos, games, music, and social networking.

Much of keynote reviewed old news, which may explain why Sesame Street's efforts grabbed the limelight. Sesame Street is using Microsoft Kinect, the sensor add-on to Microsoft's Xbox gaming console, to add interactivity to its recorded videos for children. A video shown during the keynote presented Elmo from Sesame Street counting coconuts thrown by the viewer toward the screen. The magic number was "4" coconuts to catch, and Elmo verified the count.

Prior to the Sesame Street demo, Ballmer, the luminary of the keynote, added some impressive numbers of his own, telling the audience that Microsoft has shipped more than 18 million Kinect sensors in the last year. Ballmer said there are over 66 million Xbox console users and over 40 million Xbox Live users today. Near the end of the presentation, Ballmer noted that Microsoft is just getting started with interactive TV and Kinect. He suggested that Kinect would revolutionize other industries in the near future, such as health care.

Comcast will soon be launching on Xbox Live. Microsoft also has established a partnership with News Corp. that will bring the Fox TV network and The Wall Street Journal to Xbox Live sometime this year. In addition, Microsoft has Xbox Live content deals in place with AT&T's U-verse, Telus, and Telephónica. Microsoft will be adding Kinect to Windows, which Ballmer said would arrive in "just a couple of weeks."

Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8

Windows Phone 7 was in much of the "news" during the keynote, with Nokia's Lumia and HTC's products featured, specifically the HTC Titan II. The Nokia Lumia 710 and Lumia 800 will be coming, Ballmer said. The Lumia 710 can be bought in the United States now, but the Lumia 800 will be available in "the next few months." The Nokia Lumia 900 was unveiled at the show. It features a 4.3-inch screen and will be available in "the next few months," Ballmer said.

AT&T will be the mobile carrier selling Nokia's new phones in the U.S. markets in first half of this year. The Lumia 900 and the HTC Titan II will be supported with "4G speeds delivered by LTE or HSPA+" on AT&T's wireless network, with 4G speeds available in some markets.

Important Windows 8 news had already been described by Microsoft before the CES 2012 keynote. For instance, Windows 8's next milestone (a beta release) will happen in "late February," something that Microsoft had announced in December.

Coinciding with the Windows 8 beta, Microsoft plans to open its online Windows Store for Metro-style applications in late February. The online store will be available in more than 100 languages. Both free and paid apps will be available in more than 200 regions, according to Reller. She claimed that developers will be able to write once and have their apps run across both platforms (x86 and ARM). Presumably, this capability is only true of Metro-style apps based on HTML 5, XAML or JavaScript, but Reller didn't get into those specifics.

A tablet running AMD's ARM-based Tegra 3 chip and Windows 8 was spotted at CES 2012. However, this keynote didn't feature very much discussion about Microsoft's Windows 8 ARM strategy, which had been a major topic at Ballmer's CES 2011 keynote. Similarly, there no talk during the keynote about Intel and AMD's progress in building system-on-chip processors for Windows 8.

Reller mentioned just a few pieces of hardware on stage, without describing it or the OS used. She named the HP Envy 14 Spectra Ultrabook and the Samsung Series 9 notebook (less than 13-mm thick, 2.5 lbs, 15-inch screen). She also said that Dell plans to announce a new ultrabook at CES.

Intel represents the big push behind "Ultrabooks" (an Intel brand name). Ultrabooks are thin and lightweight notebooks with relatively fast boot times and good battery lifespans, according by Roger L. Kay, founder of market research firm Endpoint Technologies Associates, in a January Forbes article. Kay noted that Ultrabooks meet his criteria for enabling high mobility for users, thereby falling into the same marketplace category with smartphones and tablets.

Metro Magic

Ballmer ended the keynote by saying that Windows 8's Metro-style user interface would be everywhere -- across PCs, tablets, televisions, and telephones. He claimed that Metro, which features a squarish tile-like user interface, will will drive "a new magic that will make one plus one equal three."

All in all, it was a lackluster CES 2012 keynote address, which purportedly was Microsoft's last keynote talk at the device-centric event. Apple already stays away from the event and Microsoft seems to be following suit. However, Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, characterized Microsoft's decision to stay away as "a pause." In his opening remarks, Shapiro recounted Bill Gates many past appearances at CES stemming back to 1995. Microsoft will take a break in 2013, Shapiro said, but "I would be shocked if a Microsoft leader didn't return to this stage in a few years," he added.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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