Microsoft unveils tablets and next version of Windows
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has given a taste of the next version of Windows and several Windows 7 tablet offerings during his keynote presentation at the Consumer Electronics Show.
However, his presentation lacked a concrete plan to tackle the immense popularity of Apple's iPad.
The Windows tablets launched at CES, some of which were shown on stage, were not groundbreaking as far as the user interface is concerned and appeared to offer the regular version of Windows 7 shoe-horned into a tablet form factor.
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Ballmer unveils an early version of the next version of Windows supporting "system on chip" (SoC). Photo: Reuters
The tablets displayed included a small Samsung laptop that converts into a tablet and a new 12-inch Asus tablet that runs little more than the standard version of Windows 7.
However, Microsoft did unveil an early version of the next version of Windows supporting "system on chip" (SoC). With SoC, an entire PC can fit on a tiny chip and motherboard that is smaller than a business card. This would conceivably make it ripe for use on future tablet PCs.
Ballmer did not unveil the user interface for the next version of Windows, with the demo machine running the new Windows but using the old Windows 7 user interface.
Ballmer holds a Windows 7 phone. Photo: Reuters
Despite the tiny size of the computers, Microsoft's demos showed the full version of Windows running with word processing and high-definition video playback running as smoothly as on a traditional desktop machine.
"Now and in the future whatever device you use Windows will be there," Ballmer said. "Windows PCs will continue to adapt and evolve. Windows will be everywhere on every device without compromise."
Ballmer, who was named Microsoft CEO in 2000 after Bill Gates stepped down to focus on philanthropy, remarked that 2010 was a strong year for Microsoft, heralding the introduction of Xbox 360 Kinect, Internet Explorer 9, Office 2010 and Windows Phone 7.
Ballmer talks about the Windows 7 phone. Photo: Reuters
He said the company's success stemmed from "big bets" it made during the year, such as by taking on Google with its Bing search engine and entering motion-controlled gaming with Kinect ("You are the controller. And there's nothing else like it in the world.")
Microsoft demoed the non-gaming aspects of Kinect, such as the ability to navigate the Xbox using gestures and voice commands. Users can use just their voice to find, play and pause music and video files.
A new Xbox 360 feature called Avatar Kinect was announced, which uses the Kinect sensor to pick up the player's gestures and facial expressions, translating them onto the on-screen character in real-time. There is a chat program where players can interact with each other as 3D cartoon avatars.
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gives his keynote address on the eve of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Photo: Reuters
"Everyone who uses Kinect knows it tracks your voice and body, but what about your face? It can track your smile, your eyebrows, your laugh," said Ballmer.
Ballmer said in the first 60 days since launch Microsoft sold over 8 million Kinect sensors worldwide. He said it was the biggest year ever for Xbox.
"The Xbox is becoming the hub of your living room. It's your TV, it's your sporting events, your social interactions, all delivered to the biggest screen in your house," Ballmer said.
Several video partnerships have been added to Xbox 360's video on-demand service, such as Hulu, Netflix and ESPN, but it is not clear when these will be available in Australia.
Apple has had significant success in transforming its iPhone and iPad into a portable gaming device and Ballmer spent part of his presentation showing off the games on Windows Phone 7 and its built-in Xbox Live multiplayer capabilities. Some of the noted titles include Halo Waypoint and Fable Coin Golf.
Ballmer said there were over 5500 apps on Windows Phone 7 so far and 100 new apps were being added to the marketplace every day.
He said over the next few months there would be several updates pushed out to WP7 devices including allowing for copy-paste and performance improvements.
Microsoft showed of several intuitive WP7 features such as the ability to instantly switch to camera mode, the live tiles which continually refresh with new information such as social network updates and voice search.
Ballmer said Windows 7 PCs were the fastest-selling PCs in history, with over seven copies of the operating system sold per second. Internet Explorer 9 beta, which supports new features such as HTML5 and hardware acceleration (enabling 3D games through the browser), was being used by over 20 million people worldwide.
Several new Windows 7 computers were shown with several quirky form factors such as an Acer laptop with two touch screens, the second one placed where the keybaord is usually found. Pressing all ten fingers on the screen brings up an on-screen keyboard.
"Only the imagination limits what can be done with Windows PCs today," Ballmer said.
A new version of Microsoft's touch-screen Surface table was shown off. Each pixel on the screen acts as a camera, enabling it to, for example, read sentences off a piece of paper placed on to the tablet. The Surface is mainly a commercial device, with some retailers placing it in stores to create more interactive displays.
Before Ballmer's appearance, CES organiser Gary Shapiro said at the show more than 2700 vendors would unveil over 27,000 new products. The show officially opens on Thursday in the US and runs until Sunday.