By Evan Ackerman
Bill Gates has given the CES opening keynote 11 times, counting this one. His talks are, to put it mildly, popular. I thought I’d play it safe and head over to the Palazzo Ballroom at the Venetian around 3:30pm for the 6:30 keynote. When I got there, the press line extended down the length of the ballroom. And when I thought I’d reached the end, it turned the corner and continued down the width. And then it wrapped around the hallway and kept right on going. Let me emphasize that this was the press only (read: VIP) line, three hours before Bill was set to go on. I got to know my linemates quite well, and they provided a lot of helpful advice to a CES virgin.
Find out if I actually made it into the keynote, after the jump.
Of course I made it in, sheesh. I wasn’t about to miss this. Note: the following has been liveblogged. That means, I wrote it in real time on my laptop, while listening to Bill talk. I wasn’t able to post it in real time due to lack of wifi in the ballroom, but this is a fairly accurate transcript of what was going on in my head, and on stage.
After spending 2 hours in the middle (yes, two HOURS early and I was in the [em]middle[/em]) of a press-only line to get in to one of the largest rooms I’ve ever seen, I’m at last uncomfortably seated in the middle of a gaggle of analysts and fellow bloggers, awaiting Bill Gates’ keynote address. Who knows what’s in store for Microsoft, and, hence, the rest of the world (just kidding) in 2008? Stay tuned; we’re about to get started.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the keynote will begin in 2 minutes.”
Bill isn’t in the way yet, which makes it that much easier to appreciate the massive rear projection screen. It’s high-def, and everybody is oooing and aahing over how pretty it is.
The lights are dimming, here we go! Some guy I don’t really care about is giving the intro.
OMG It’s BILL!
This is his last keynote, since he’s about to move from running Microsoft to running the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Bill: “I’m not really sure what that last day is going to be like…”
[My apologies for the quality of the following video, but there was nothing I could do about either the video or audio.] UPDATE: I’ve found a better quality version; you can view my original recording here.
Wow, that was really, really funny. And now my arms hurt from holding the camera up over my head while laughing. Seriously, though, Bill says not to worry, the transition will go smoothly.
On to more serious matters. Bill is talking about services (i.e. software and widgets and stuff), specifically using “clouds” of services running on an underlying platform that can help interconnect work and life. Software services will integrate easily (that’s the key, easily) with hardware, and there are three key things (when it comes to hardware):
1. High definition experiences everywhere, including 3D.
2. All of the software/hardware rich devices will be totally, transparently interconnected. Example: take a picture on your camera, and it’ll just show up where you want it to show up (on your computer, website, etc.)
Holy cow, what is THAT render?
3. The power of natural user interfaces. Major point here; we’re in the process of transitioning from the mouse/keyboard to touch, speech recognition, motion (gesture) recognition, etc… It’s all going to be built into the platform.
No surprise here: Windows is still a “key building block.” This last year was an “incredible year for PCs” with double digit growth this year and projected for the next. 100 million people now use Vista (and that’s all Bill says about that).
Small form factor devices and mobile services are big and getting bigger, with Windows Mobile as a base OS. What’s the limiting factor for small form factor devices? Input, and WM is going to change that (with the aforementioned natural user interfaces?) ::cough:: iPhone ::cough::
Online Services: Windows Live integrates all services with one ID. Great, Google already does that. So, what’s unique about Windows Live? Mika (didn’t catch her last time) shows us a multi-user calendar (um, kinda like Google calendar?), and there’s also a Windows Live Events Planner (um, kinda like Yahoo Upcoming?). Events is designed to work both before AND after the event, though, letting attendees share pictures on the same website. Live also integrates with your personal photo collection and allows you to upload your pics directly. Mika shows a neat little automated panoramic autostitch, but it’s eye candy and not new tech. More integration: add keywords to your Live page, and Live pulls other related pics and vids from around the internet. Plays nice with mobile devices (WM devices, anyway). Oops, she said Vista is an integral part of this, too.
Mika made some crack about Bill buying a snowboard. Wonder where that’s going…
Ooo, Bill’s back and he’s talking about SURFACE!
Bill is designing a snowboard for himself using the Surface interface. It’s got an ugly red snowflake on it. Bill puts his cell phone on Surface, and his design gets uploaded to it automatically. This is a retail demo that should show up here in Las Vegas in the near future.
Next on parade: Silverlight… Video and animation made simple. Announcement: “NBC has chosen Microsoft (i.e. MSN) as its exclusive US partner for online video footage for the 2008 Olympics.” Live and on demand and customizable. That’s big news from a business standpoint, and Bill says that that sort of integration is where TV is headed.
Video: lots of Olympic footage (w/ Bob Costas), talking about how nifty the partnership is going to be. Hey, if it lets me watch soccer and badminton at sometime other than 2am on ESPN19, I’m all for it. Bob Costas: “Bill, STOP CALLING ME, there is NO ROOM FOR YOU ON OUR OLYMPIC TEAM!” Lolz all ’round.
Bill introduces Robbie Bach, Entertainment & Devices Division. Connected Entertainment is going to be big; it’s the process of enabling people to get music, movies, gaming, etc on any device anywhere, anytime. Ummm, DRM anyone? Now we here about Vista: “great operating system for gaming.” Oops, that’s it, no more on Vista (funny how that works), now we’re on to Xbox. “Spending on Xbox 360 games is more than spending on Wii and PS3 games combined.” Xbox live is getting Disney TV shows, and ABC TV shows (OMG Desparate Housewives!). MGM movies, too. After all that, it’s more than TWICE as much on-demand content as any cable or satellite provider. But wait, what if I don’t have an Xbox? Well, Windows Media Center is getting more “extender” technology, i.e. getting it to run on your TV like the Xbox does. Announcement: Samsung and HP will be adopting extender tech, with HP building it directly into some TVs.
Zune: “new versions doing very, very well.” “Becoming the clear alternative to the iPod.” The wifi and “social experience” is supposed to be the definitive application. Zune is going on sale in Canada this year. What’s the “social experience?” He’s talking about Zune Social, currently in beta. Zune Social is a site that allows you to create a personal profile of music you like. The site automatically tracks what you’re listening to on your Zune, will create playlists for you, and will also create playlists for your friends based on what you like. Integrates with Facebook. And then, of course, you can buy the new music suggestions it makes.
Hey, there’s a car on stage now! Maybe we’re going to talk about Sync. Yup, Sync it is, powered by Microsoft Auto Software. The car is a 2008 Lincoln MKX. They’re demoing the car… They plug the Zune in (excuse me, PLUG?), which syncs the music. Bluetooth enabled cellphones sync with the car, too. You’ve probably seen commercials for this (voice activated music and cellphone use). Sync now also acts as a sort of OnStar; if Sync thinks you’ve crashed, it’ll ask your permission to call 911 (which it will do automatically unless you tell it it was just a flesh wound, and it should mind its own business).
Next: Windows Mobile, featuring Say And See, a search tool. The service knows where you are on a GPS enabled phone, and responds to voice queries. For example, if you say “movies”, it finds the closest theatre and displays show times. You can even buy the tickets with your voice (not sure how you pay, though).
Next: Bill to talk about “the future.” Awesome, I like the future.
Bill demos a visual recognition device. He points it at a picture of a movie theatre on the Las Vegas strip, and the phone is able to recognize what theatre it is and pulls up showtimes. Furthermore, the device knows that Bill has some dinner reservations… Bill doesn’t remember where, exactly, but the phone does: Bill waves the phone around, it recognizes its location based on the scene (NOT GPS) and then provides directions and an even an ETA. Nifty. But very demo (it’s huge, clunky, and attached to a computer with a cable).
Um, apparently Bill is about to play Guitar Hero on stage, against a rather fetching Guitar Hero championess. Aw, he’s not even trying. Oh, he says he has a ringer… Good heavens, it’s Slash.
So what’s the major badass showstopping announcement?
It’s connections, I guess. Connected entertainment, hardware, software, and services. Sure, it’s important, even critical, but it’s not something that’s very easy to get excited over. Oh well, it was a good talk, and Bill does a great job of making fun of himself. Even if he does suck at Guitar Hero.
[ CES ]