CES 2012: Microsoft's Ballmer Gives Exuberant Keynote


Las Vegas - An energized and enthusiastic Steve Ballmer gave his final International CES keynote Monday with help from "American Idol" 's Ryan Seacrest.

While the Microsoft CEO did not make any major product announcement, the crowd was treated to demos of the Windows Phone and upcoming Windows 8 operating system.

The keynote marked the end of a 14-year run that first saw Microsoft founder Bill Gates kick off CES with a speech, followed by four years of Ballmer taking over the duty after Gates retired. The 2012 version was more upbeat than Ballmer's previous efforts as he happily bantered back and forth with Seacrest in between product demonstrations.

CEA president Gary Shapiro introduced Ballmer, giving a quick rundown on the history of Microsoft at CES.

"Microsoft always did the first keynote because it drove press interest and attendance and its technology drove the industry," Shapiro said.

Microsoft announced in December that it would no longer exhibit at CES nor give any more keynotes. The company stated the show no longer coincides with its product introduction timing.

Shapiro painted a brighter picture, saying Microsoft was simply "taking a break" and described the decision as mutually agreed upon by the CEA and Microsoft. He also left the door open for Microsoft to return at a later date.

"I offer gratitude and goodwill to Microsoft. I would be shocked if a Microsoft leader did not return to this stage in the next few years," he said.

Shapiro then presented Ballmer with a large plaque covered with photos and other mementoes of Microsoft's tenure at the show.

Ballmer accepted the gift gratefully and introduced a video segment that looked back on his and Gates' speeches at the show.

Ballmer and Seacrest then sat down and discussed what Microsoft had brought to this year's edition of CES.

The first category was the Windows Phone operating system.

Ballmer said he was very excited over the OS, calling it - along with Windows 8 - focus points for the company in 2012.

Ballmer announced that the Nokia Lumia 900, running Windows Phone, would be available on the AT&T 4G network, but pricing and shipping were not disclosed.

The HTC Titan II Windows Phone also will be available on the AT&T 4G network. Next up was a long demo of Windows 8. Ballmer did not use his final CES appearance to announce a ship date, but he did say a major milestone will be reached in late February, with shipping to follow at a later date.

The product demo focused on the upcoming Windows App store, which will open in late February. It will house free and paid apps that can be used across all Windows 8 devices.

The biggest news of the keynote was reserved for the Xbox Kinect.

Ballmer said the game console is now used more for entertainment purposes than gaming, and that it is being expanded with the addition of Comcast Xfinity to the console in the near future. Microsoft has also inked a deal with News Corp. to host its programming on the Xbox starting this year.

Microsoft has also been working with the creators of "Sesame Street" to develop an interactive version of the popular children's show. This season's shows have been enhanced so a child using a Kinect can directly impact and participate with what is happening onscreen.

The Sesame characters have the child to do something, and the child's reaction appears on the screen. An example of Grover telling the child to throw a coconut to him was shown. The young demonstrator on the stage dutifully made a throwing motion, which was picked up by the Kinect and shown on the TV. The Kinect can also judge the degree to which something is done. If the child winds up and throws hard, the object travels farther on the TV.

The Kinect can also be used to capture video of the people watching and transfer it into the TV show, making it appear as if the viewers are standing with the TV characters.


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