Liveblog: Steve Ballmer's CES keynote
LAS VEGAS--Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer will soon be giving the opening-night keynote for the Consumer Electronics Show in the theater of the Las Vegas Hilton here.
You never quite know what to expect at these things. Last year's keynote, for instance, began with a 50-minute delay caused by... wait for it... an electrical problem. But in retrospect, the highlight of that event was not the initial snafu but a public demonstration of Microsoft's Kinect add-on for the Xbox.
Follow along here as I recount what Ballmer has to say; the most recent posts will be at the top, though we'll switch the post to straight chronological order afterwards. You can also watch the event live at Microsoft's site.
7:56 p.m. PST: So that's a wrap. Does the absence of news about any big new product launches count as a disappointment, or do you prefer a relatively vaporware-free keynote. Let me know in the comments.
7:47 p.m. PST: I guess all those rumors of a revival of the "slate" tablet-computer design Ballmer showed off at last year's keynote--just in time to get run over by the iPad--weren't true. Predictions of a peek at the functions or interface of Windows 8 (or whatever the next version will be called) or the introduction of a Microsoft Web-media receiver to compete with the Roku and Apple TV boxes were also off. The keynote also lacked any update on the Mediaroom software for cable boxes shown off at last year's keynote. And--perhaps most shocking of all--it lacked the traditional comedy video segment.
7:46 p.m. PST: Ballmer is now in ending-the-keynote recap mode. Is this really going to end without any major new product launch? It is. Ballmer thanks the audience for attending.
7:43 p.m. PST: "This is an exciting time," Ballmer says. Perhaps I'm jaded, but I don't think the prospect of a new Windows release in two years quite earns that adjective.
7:40 p.m. PST: As I saw earlier today, the demo emphasizes how well Windows and Microsoft's own apps run when redone to run on ARM. But unless I know how much work it took to port over that software, that says little about the future of ARMed Windows software. That is, Microsoft can order its own developers to revise their apps for a new processor architecture. It can't do the same with outside companies.
7:37 p.m. PST: Ballmer returns to recap why Microsoft is moving to have the next version of Windows run on ARM-based "system on a chip" hardware: To Bring Windows to smaller mobile devices. There's a very techie-oriented discussion about how "SoC" helps miniaturize devices.
7:33 p.m. PST: There's also a recap of this afternoon's Surface demo. Again, Surface looks neat--but it's not anything you can order online and have shipped to your home.
7:27 p.m. PST: We're looking a few new Windows 7 PCs, starting with a demo of graphics performance and a look at the weird dual-screen laptop I saw at Microsoft's briefing earlier today.
7:23 p.m. PST: Remember that operating system Microsoft sells? Now it's Windows 7's turn in the spotlight. Ballmer says Windows 7 is the company's fastest-selling product ever; seven new Windows 7 PC sell every second.
7:20 p.m. PST: "When I get a chance to show people a Windows phone, the feedback that I hear is very, very gratifying," Ballmer says. To judge from the fact that nobody's said anything about WP7 sales, more in-person salesmanship might help.
7:18 p.m. PST: A product manager comes onstage to demo Windows Phone 7's core features. It's redundant for those of us in the audience who went to the WP7 launch event in October. Overall, this keynote has been remarkably backward-looking so far, with few new products or applications on display compared to earlier Microsoft CES keynotes.
7:12 p.m. PST: More than 5,500 applications are available for Windows Phone 7 now, which would mean Microsoft's smartphone platform is now edging ahead of the selection available for HP's Palm webOS. Ballmer says that in the spring, software updates will add support for copy and paste and improve performance when switching applications, while a version for Sprint and Verizon's networks will come in the first half of the year.
7:08 p.m. PST: We're moving on to mobile devices but staying on the gaming theme--Ballmer's discussing Windows Phone 7's ability to extend the Xbox experience through games and also Xbox Live access. (WP7 doesn't do multitasking, so games--inherently a single-tasking experience--are a good fit.)
7:05 p.m. PST: Ballmer--the physical one--says "Maybe it was just me, but that avatar was pretty darn bald!" Avatar Kinect will be a free download this spring for Xbox owners who pay for an Xbox Live Gold subscription. Ballmer adds that Microsoft blew through its forecast of 5 million Kinect sales in the first 60 days, selling 8 million worldwide in that time. With this and other innovations, he says, "the Xbox is becoming the hub of your living room."
7:02 p.m. PST: After a look at how Xbox Live's ESPN feature lets you post and compare game picks with friends, Ballmer--make that, his Xbox Live avatar--returns onscreen. Why? To show how Kinect can now track facial expressions and reproduce them onscreen. Ballmer demonstrates "Avatar Kinect" by having his alter ego smile, laugh and wave his eyebrows.
6:57 p.m. PST: One new wrinkle to Kinect: Starting this spring, you'll be able to use Kinect to choose and watch streaming Netflix movies and Hulu Plus TV shows through your Xbox.
6:54 p.m. PST: Now there's a Kinect demo. Meanwhile, I've yet to hear more than token references to Microsoft's two traditional flagship products (and profit sources), Windows and Office.
6:48 p.m. PST: Has it really been a decade since the Xbox's debut? Apparently so. Ballmer notes how Microsoft's game console has grown since then, most recently with the launch of Kinect (a seeing-eye peripheral that lets you control the action by jumping around in front of the Kinect's cameras.) A recap video plays, in case anybody here is not familiar with this whole Xbox thing.
6:47 p.m. PST: After a plug for his new book, "The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream," and CEA's new "Tech Enthusiast" membership option for individual customers, Shapiro introduces Ballmer with a brief recap of the Microsoft executive's career. Ballmer walks onstage and says "2010 was a very, very exciting year for our customers," noting such releases as Windows Phone 7, Kinect and Office 2010. "We want to start by saying thank you" to our customers.
6:42 p.m. PST:
Ballmer Shapiro notes such additions to the CES menu as exhibit areas devoted to electric vehicles and robotics.
6:41 p.m. PST: And we're off. The traditional montage of CES photos and videos plays, and Consumer Electronics Association president Gary Shapiro walks onstage to introduce Ballmer. "This is my favorite week of the year," says the typically ebullient leader of the Arlington-based trade group. He says that CEA projects that consumer-electronics shipments will climb 3.5 percent this year.
6:32 p.m. PST: Keynote hasn't started yet, but this laptop's wireless modem briefly stopped, causing a brief moment of "oh, bleep" panic for me.
6:23 p.m. PST: An announcement just went out, asking members of the press to stop using "wireless mics and other RF [radio frequency] devices." I'm going to assume they didn't invite hundreds of reporters here only to tell us not to do any reporting, so I'll keep this laptop open.
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