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
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
“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
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
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.