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CES Keynote: Ballmer Sees 'New Magic' in Microsoft Metro UI

It was supposed to be Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's final shining moment at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show. Yet on Monday night, it was the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street that stole the show.

The keynote talk mostly featured Ballmer in a dialog with entertainer Ryan Seacrest. Also taking the stage at the Las Vegas event happening this week was Tami Reller, Windows chief marketing officer, who talked about some Windows 8 basics. Two product managers also discussed Microsoft's Metro-style user interface used in Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8. The Metro UI is seen by Microsoft as the central unifying experience across applications, videos, games, music and social networking.

Tickle Me Xbox
Much of keynote covered old ground for Microsoft, so it was perhaps an unintended consequence that Sesame Street's efforts grabbed the limelight. It turns out that Sesame Street is using Microsoft Kinect, the sensor add-on to Microsoft's Xbox gaming console, to make its recorded videos for children interactive with viewers. A cutaway video during the keynote talk showed Sesame Street character Elmo 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 bit, Ballmer, the luminary of the keynote, added some impressive numbers of his own. He said that Microsoft has shipped more than 18 million Kinect sensors over the last year. Ballmer added that there are more than 66 million Xbox console users and more than 40 million Xbox Live users. Toward 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 healthcare.

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 bringing Kinect to Windows, which Ballmer said would arrive in "just a couple of weeks."

Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8
Windows Phone 7 constituted 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, TVs and phones. He claimed that Metro, which features a squarish tile-like user interface, 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 the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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