Microsoft Previews Windows 8 and XBox Voice Recognition at Final CES Keynote

Posted by · January 10, 2012 1:44 am

From the moment I walked in to the Palazzo Ballroom at the Venetian where Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer would be giving his final keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), I knew something was up.  No techie in their right mind streams American Idol Pandora Radio–or at least not in the presence of other techies–but that is precisely what was blasting out of the speakers.  Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Chris Daughtry. The gang was all there, and so was their host and ours for the night, Ryan Seacrest.

That’s right.  The first big surprise at Ballmer’s CES keynote was not a product release but the fact that the keynote itself would be hosted by Ryan Seacrest.  (Is there anything that man has not hosted?) Ballmer and Seacrest sat at a table on the stage discussing various Microsoft products throughout the evening including the Windows Phone, XBox Kinect and Windows 8.  During their conversation, other Microsoft employees also took the stage to talk about each product in more depth.  Honestly, I think even the biggest Apple fanboy in the room had to be excited about some of the stuff he saw on that stage.

Here’s a breakdown of what was revealed about each product:

Windows Phone

By the time the Microsoft keynote started, the impending US release of the Lumia 710 and the unveiling of the Lumia 900 were old news to me and should have been to those of you who read this blog.  Since I covered the Lumia Windows Phones extensively in my last post, I’ll just share a few new observations with you here.  First, according to Ballmer, the New York Times called the Windows Phone “gorgeous, classy, satisfying and coherent” and after seeing a preview of the device for the second time today, I am even more impressed than I was initially.  Second, another Windows Phone–the HTC Titan II–launched today.  I was fortunate enough to get a demo of the phone (which has a 16 mpx camera) later in the evening.  Unfortunately, the HTC Titan II it will launch on the AT&T network, thus precluding me from enjoying it for a while.

Windows PCs and Windows 8 

To Seacrest’s credit, he directly addressed the stiff competition that Microsoft faces from Apple and Google in the PC, tablet and operating system verticals.  Ballmer retorted by saying: “I AM FIRED UP ABOUT GOOD COMPETITION. THERE IS NOTHING BETTER.  I’M ALSO FIRED UP ABOUT WINDOWS. THE WINDOWS PC HAS CONSTANTLY CHANGED, REINVENTED, MOVED FORWARD AND SPURRED OTHER TECH INNOVATIONS.”  (Sidenote: I feel it’s best to put direct quotes from Ballmer in all caps so as to capture the forceful nature with which he says every. Single. Word.)

Perhaps to shut Ballmer up or perhaps to demo the product, CMO of Windows Tami Reller then took the stage to give the audience an in-depth preview of Windows 8.  Reller used a picture password to log on to her device and up popped a number of tiles that act as a window into your applications (which are always up-to-date) without actually having to launch them. For Reller, Windows 8 is a “no compromise” product designed for touch, a mouse and a keyboard.  And as she swiped her fingers and effortlessly pulled up key Windows features from the left corner of her computer screen, demonstrated semantic zoom features and an Internet Explorer 8 browser that display immersive websites (a la Google Chrome), I’m wont to agree.

During her Windows 8 preview, Reller also demoed the Metro-Style App Store. The store has a tiled look like the rest of Windows 8 and will be available in over 200 markets and 100 languages later this year. The next big Windows 8 milestone will come in late February and devices currently on the market and running Windows 7 (ex: HP’s Envy 14″ Spectra Ultrabooks) will be ready for Windows 8 on day one.

XBox Voice Recognition and Kinect 

Bing is coming to XBox and making it a lot like Siri.  Microsoft’s Craig Davison took the stage after Reller to talk about the marriage of XBox and Bing and demonstrate XBox voice recognition.  In all honesty, the product worked so smoothly that I felt as though it had to be rigged for success.  Davison gave the device a series of commands ranging from searching for Josh Duhamel movies to listening to music and Bing never missed a beat.  So, maybe it was rigged to ensure it would work, maybe it wasn’t.  Regardless, the fact that you can now talk to your XBox and it will listen is pretty darn cool.  (Oh! You can also control your XBox through your Windows Phone, but somehow that doesn’t seem nearly as fun now.)

As for Kinect, it’s getting Sesame Street TV this year and will soon allow your children to interact with their favorite TV show.  In the demo, a little girl gave Grover a series of commands and vice versa and eventually ended up projected on to the TV screen and into Elmo’s World.  Additionally, Kinect will come to Windows in a few weeks.

Wrapping it up

After the Sesame Street demo, Seacrest asked Ballmer what’s next for Microsoft.  I held my breath hoping for a big reveal, but he merely said “Windows 8” (which is quite impressive, don’t get me wrong). Ballmer says the Metro-Style interface (those are the ubiquitous Windows 8 tiles) is everywhere.

“Metro will drive the new magic across all of our user experiences,” Ballmer says. “In the new math of Microsoft, Metro will mean 1+1 really does equal three. So in 2012, what’s next? Metro, Metro, Metro, and of course, Windows, Windows, Windows.” And just like that, Ballmer made his final chant at his final keynote.

The End