Developer & Designer, News Editor Emeritus
Join Date: Aug 2006
CES 2008: Bill Gates' Keynote
Prior to this keynote, Bill Gates had presented at CES eleven times. Ten of those were keynotes and eight were given consecutively. This year's was to be his last while in his full-time role at Microsoft. Gates looked back at his first keynote in 1994 - he recalled it with great significance as it was a time when Windows 95 was coming together and the Internet was starting to boom. He spoke of the years following as the first digital decade. A period when the world saw one billion PCs populate homes and businesses around the world, 250 million broadband subscribers, and a growth in mobile phone adoption to 41% of the world's population in 2006. There was a heavy emphasis on the digitalization of audio and visual and how it all came down to software. Software-driven entertainment and connected services were very much the focus of his keynote and what he believed would drive the second digital decade.
Amusingly enough, Gates deviated from the technologies to focus on his upcoming departure from his full-time role at Microsoft to a full-time role at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation by showing a video of what his last day at Microsoft might be like. You have to see it to believe it: Gates spinning in his chair and playing with action figures, Gates and Matthew McConaughey in the gym, Jay-Z talking retirement and "unretirement", Bono swearing it off, Gates in X-Men and The Matrix moments, Clooney and Spielberg talking movies, Jon Stewart poking fun at Gates' run-off on The Daily Show, Gates' entry into the American political campaign, and Gates' dislike of $7 or more haircuts.
After the jokes, it was back to the second digital decade. Gates spoke about Microsoft's aim to allow developers to build applications and services that leverage the capabilities of multiple platforms. Actually, we're seeing that now, although suffice to say, there's still plenty of room for growth.
First, there's the high-definition experience. Microsoft wants to provide the tools to encourage the existence of HD experiences everywhere - physical displays, projection, you name it. There's the idea of not only having a computer on the desk, but in the desk as well (Microsoft Surface). And driving these are the 3D environments and high quality audio and video for rich web experiences (walking through a store or walking on a city street and meeting people).
Of course, devices are great on their own, but even better when they're connected. Gates focused on services and the aim to simplify the arduous task of backing up, searching, and organizing and sharing information across users. He envisioned a world where you'll be able to pick up any device, authenticate yourself, and instantly pull your personal information and customizations pertaining to said device.
Much of that reduction in complexity is aided by the power of the natural user interface. The first digital decade was largely driven by keyboards and mice. Of course, they're still in existence and widely used today, but we're now seeing new methods of input. Gates was quick to highlight touch (the Windows PC, iPhone and Surface), speech (already present in Windows Mobile, Windows Vista and Ford Sync), ink (Wacom Tablets, Tablet PCs and UMPCs), and gestures, and how Microsoft hopes to take these to the next level over the coming years.
The next segment of the keynote focused on the evolution of the Windows platform. Gates highlighted the 13% growth in PC sales in 2007 and predicted 2008 to be another year of double digit growth. Windows Vista, love it or hate it, is currently being used by 100 million people. Windows Live has a strong user base of 420 million. 20 million people embrace Windows Mobile, with 10 million supposedly adopting it just last year thanks to the ever increasing capabilities of the mobile device.
Mika Krammer, Director of Windows Product Management, was on stage to show off some of the Windows Live services (Calendar, Hotmail, Photo Gallery, Spaces, and Video Search) and the power of the unified Windows Live ID login to accomplish multiple tasks on a single profile. She demonstrated the mobile aspect of Windows Live by updating her Windows Live Space page with a recent snapshot taken from her HTC Touch.
And it was back to Gates. He needed a new snowboard and Microsoft Surface was there to save the day. This was a pretty impressive demonstration showing off multi-touch and the level of customization (colours, patterns and custom decals) available to the user. This was accompanied by a very rich connected experience as Gates placed a Windows Mobile device on the Surface to allow it to instantly upload an image of the snowboard and associated metadata on to Windows Live.
Web technologies came next - namely, Silverlight. Gates announced the partnership of NBC and Microsoft in the delivery of live and on-demand video footage of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games with Silverlight being the backbone of it all. Watch out for it on NBCOlympics.com this August.
Next up, Robbie Bach, President of Microsoft's Entertainment & Devices Division, was on stage to reinforce last year's message of "connected entertainment". He talked about the successes these connected technologies enjoyed in 2007 and offered an insight into 2008 and beyond.
Gaming was first on the agenda. According to Bach, Windows is currently the largest gaming platform and enjoys continued growth each year. Its counterpart, the Xbox 360, has also been doing well with 17.7 million consoles shipped since launch and over 10 million Xbox Live subscribers. Business-wise, it's seen more dollars in sales than the Wii and Playstation 3, and Microsoft expects 2008 to be its biggest year yet - at least in the US.
On the topic of Xbox Live, Bach announced that ABC and Disney will be bringing their shows to the Video Marketplace this month, so expect goodies such as Lost, Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives, The High School Musical, among others. MGM will also add to that with films such as The Terminator, Legally Blonde, and the list goes on. With Microsoft's new partners, Xbox Live will supposedly offer more on-demand content than any other cable or satellite provider.
Media Center was next and Bach noted that its adoption has been helped greatly by Windows Vista. But the focus was less on Media Center itself and more on the Extender technology. It's been a huge hit in the Xbox 360 and is set to grow even further with Samsung's and HP's announcement of new Extender devices for the living room.
The focus switched to Mediaroom, Microsoft's IPTV service. Bach highlighted its user base of 1 million and its rapid advancements. This year, we'll see DVR Anywhere enabling users to record and distribute content to other Mediaroom systems around the house. We'll also see new partnerships with media companies such as Showtime and CNN. Expect a new interactive experience in television - new camera views and new levels of customization. Oh, and remember last year's IPTV demo on the Xbox 360? BT will be the first provider for it, so you'll soon be able to purchase an Xbox 360 from BT and use it as both a gaming console and a set-top box for your TV.
It was the Zune next and perhaps one of the biggest announcements Bach had to make was its official availability outside of the US. Canada will see it launch in Spring (Q2 2008); sadly, no dates were given for other countries. Bach tagged the Zune as the clear alternative to the iPod with capabilities such as subscription services, Wi-Fi, and a unique social experience (Zune Social). Molly O'Donnell was on stage to show it all off. If you've been tracking Zune news, you'd know Zune Cards pretty well. Each card is personalized with a Zune tag, pictures, wallpapers, and music preferences. Microsoft calls this "people-powered music discovery", which you can share on your blog, Facebook, and other social sites. And if you find a track you like, you can buy it in a matter of clicks on the Zune Marketplace. But I'm sure you already knew that.
There was a Lincoln MKX on stage for Microsoft to demonstrate Ford Sync. We've heard so much about it and today's keynote gave us the opportunity to see it in action. Bach and O'Donnell showed off the sync capabilities of the automotive software - music from the Zune and contacts from the Windows Mobile device. With the power of voice, you can control your media and call your contacts. It's like Microsoft Voice Command for your car! Microsoft also announced 911 Assist. If an airbag deploys, Ford Sync automatically makes an emergency call unless you tell it otherwise.
All eyes were on Windows Mobile next with Bach noting that it currently outsells both Blackberry and the iPhone. Sadly, that was about all he had to say on Windows Mobile as he quickly switched to Tellme and their Say and See service which leverages the power of GPS and voice recognition to search local listings. Bach and O'Donnell demonstrated this on a phone by ordering two tickets to Sweeney Todd at a local cinema. The tickets were purchased and shared via SMS to Bach's phone. He opened it up and clicked a link to preview a trailer. The video was a little choppy, but tolerable. And it was back to Gates.
Gates offered a snippet of the future with a device hot out of the Microsoft Research labs. Its theme was camera-based visual identification: focus on a subject and interact with the supplied contextual information. All this was shown off while leveraging Virtual Earth 3D for route plotting and travel times. It's a neat service and one that we'll soon be seeing on our phones.
Gates then took it a step further by using the same device to bring up a history of CES keynotes on the big screen. It wasn't specified just how this will fit in with current technologies, although for what it's worth, it felt very Media Center-esque.
The keynote ended with a Guitar Hero 3 contest between Bach and Gates. Actually, Bach backed out and invited Guitar Hero champion, Kelly Law-Yone, to take his place to jam 'Welcome to the Jungle'. Gates did one better and invited Slash from Velvet Revolver to jam the same track. Amusing stuff.
And that was the end to a long history of Bill Gates CES keynotes. It was one to remember - not only because it was his last, but also because it was BSOD-free.