Liveblogging the Steve Ballmer CES keynote (2010 edition) -- HP Slate, Bing, Blio and more
(updated 5:30 a.m.)
LAS VEGAS--The Consumer Electronics Show's official kickoff happened at the Hiton Theater here Wednesday night, when Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer delivered a keynote address covering the company's current and upcoming products. For the second consecutive year, I liveblogged the speech as it happened. Here is my report:
6:15: So here we are, all several thousand of us in the Hilton Theater, waiting for keynote to start. Questions I have in mind: What sort of sales or audience figures will Steve Ballmer tout for such recent Microsoft ventures as Windows 7, the Zune HD, the Bing search engine and Windows Mobile 6.5? Will he show off the tablet e-reader co-developed with HP that the NYT suggested he would? Will we see a demo of the "Natal" no-controller-required-just-move-your-hands gaming interface? And will he speak the phrase "Windows Vista" at all? (Take a drink every time he does!)
6:34: Announcement: "At this time, will everyone please remain in your seats? We are having a small power problem." Apparently it's being fixed ASAP.
6:45: After a few rounds of flicking lights and backdrop screens on and off, we seem to have electricity squared away. (Yes, this happened at a trade show for the electronics industry.) But Ballmer has yet to make his entrance.
6:53: And we're off, with a montage of CES video clips and photos set to the Black Eyed Peas' "I Gotta Feeling." As usual, Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro comes out to introduce Ballmer.
7:02: The CES keynote traditionally includes a humorous video clip. This year's entry: Saturday Night Live's Seth Meyers explaining how technology has changed his life. Sample line: "Before Facebook, you had to be in my apartment to see this picture. [Holds up shot of his drunken self] Thanks, technology!"
7:05: Ballmer sets out three themes: software and content for screens of every size, from phones to TVs; data accessible from the cloud (aka, the Internet) at all times; a "natural user interface." Then he throws in a plug for Bing: "We blog, we Twitter, we Bing. I Bing, you Bing, we Bing. Bing, Bing, Bing!"
7:11: Time for the recitation of recent achievements, a standard part of any keynote. Ballmer says Bing will become the default search engine--and MSN the default home page--on HP's computers. (But does anybody pay attention to the vendor-set home page on a browser?) He also reports adoption of Microsoft's Windows Embedded software in cars by Ford, Fiat and Kia. Ballmer cites good reviews for the Zune HD but doesn't give any sales figures. Windows Mobile only gets a few sentences.
7:15: Ballmer's reporting on Windows 7's progress. NPD research data, he says, shows that Windows PC sales jumped almost 50 percent in the week of Win 7's launch. "Windows 7 is by far the fastest-selling operating system in history."
7:21: Ryan Asdourian, a product manager for Windows, comes on stage to show off some new Windows 7 computers. He cites all-in-one desktops from Lenovo, Medion and Sony, some with touchscreen capability; laptops from Asus and Dell (the latter, he shows, is thinner than four poker chips stacked on top of each other); netbooks that he makes a point of saying "all run the full version of Windows 7" (guess Win 7's Starter Edition won't figure into the presentation); and gaming-oriented laptops from Toshiba and Acer with high-end graphics cards (the last supports 3D graphics).
7:25: The demo was apparently going to include a TV with a PC built into it, but Ballmer explains that the power outage "blew the tube" on the set. Oops.
7:28: Asdourian demonstrates the Blio e-book reader software introduced today, showing how it can make a textbook interactive. He and Ballmer then use some of Windows 7's Internet and hardware features to collaborate on a PowerPoint document in the upcoming Office 2010 suite online.
7:33: After a demo of Bing maps and its Streetside mode (like Google Maps' Street View), the two move on to demonstrate how a Windows 7 PC with a CableCard can record four high-definition channels at one time. And--oops, one computer seems to have hung up.
7:40: Ballmer touts Microsoft's Mediaroom--software it sells to subscription-TV services to provide an onscreen interface for their set-top boxes. The new 2.0 version can also run on other devices, such as Xboxes and computers to provide access to the same subscription content with only an Internet connection (consider its uses in the TV Everywhere Web-viewing initiative of Comcast and Time Warner).
7:43: Ballmer points to three "slate" computers from HP and other vendors--tablet, touchscreen devices that fall between an e-book reader and a netbook in capability. He picks up the HP slate, a prototype of a model to ship "later this year"; its color screen shows the cover page of "Twilight," which he then flips through a page or two of.
7:47:: Another Seth Meyers video, in which he recaps "Everything Important That's Ever Happened To The HIstory of Technology" (Frogger, a very large cell phone and dial-up Internet access all make appearances). And then Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's entertainment division, comes onstage to start the next phase of the keynote.
7:51: Bach forecasts 2010 for the Xbox: a variety of sequels to past hits; a new "pyschological action thriller" called "Alan Wake"; and, of course, a new Halo title. "Halo: Reach" will be a prequel to the first Halo title, shipping this fall; we're treated to a clip from the game, showing troops readying for battle.
8:01: Bach notes the social-networking features of the Xbox's Xbox Live online social, including its recent integration of Facebook, and says the service will add games with social features: Your Xbox Live avatar will be able to wander into a "Game Room" to play vintage arcade video games, then you can invite friends to play against you.
8:04: Bach explains the "natural user interface" Ballmer referred to earlier--aka, the "Natal" project. In this, you control what's happening in the game just by moving your body, without holding a controller; a camera sensor track your motions and translate them into onscreen actions.
8:08: Bach says Natal will ship by "this holiday 2010"; it will work on an existing Xbox.
8:10: And that's a wrap--a somewhat abrupt ending, without Ballmer returning to the stage. I suppose they had to cut some of the keynote to make up for the late start. Overall, I didn't see anything too earth-shattering, aside from the unusual number of technical glitches. What did you think? How anxious are you to read a book on a slate computer or play a game through Natal? Did you want to see anything else? Let me know in the comments....
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