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Microsoft Shows Off Windows 7-Based Devices at CES Event

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer kicked off this year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Wednesday night with lots of positive stats, along with a few gizmos.

The gizmos shown on stage--which ranged from laptops and PCs, a single tablet device, and a slimmed-down Microsoft Surface table-top device--were quickly presented toward the end of the keynote talk by Michael Angiulo, Microsoft's corporate vice president for Windows planning, hardware and PC ecosystem. Missing from the lineup was Microsoft's star attraction at last year's CES, the HP slate prototype, which Ballmer had prominently displayed.

Tablets, PCs and Table-Tops
HP currently offers its Windows 7-based Slate 500 Tablet PC for $799, but the company also will create a slate device based on webOS, the operating system that HP acquired when it bought mobile device-maker Palm in July. According to a recent eWeek article, webOS-based HP slates likely won't be seen at CES this week, but they may get their debut on Feb. 9.

Much speculation leading up to CES had centered around some sort of major tablet or slate announcement by Microsoft during the kickoff--something to counterbalance Apple's runaway iPad sales. However, Angiulo presented just one device, Asus' tablet running Windows 7. This device features a bright touch screen that uses 20 percent less power than devices with similar-size touch screens, according to Angiulo. Users can apply colored "ink" on the screen using a special stylus. The screen can distinguish between a user's hand and the stylus, making it easier to apply the ink. Angiulo mentioned that the Asus tablet is available now, but he didn't mention the price. Amazon.com lists the Windows 7-based ASUS Eee Slate EP121-1A011M tablet PC at $999. Meanwhile, the most expensive Apple iPad at Amazon.com, the MC496LL/A tablet, costs $749.

Angiulo showed off some different PC form factors running Windows 7, including an Acer machine featuring dual touch screens. The bottom screen of the Acer PC can serve as keyboard for input. A Samsung PC on display has a keyboard that slides out from the body of the machine. Angiulo said that this Samsung PC was running Intel's Oak Trail CPU, which doesn't have a fan. The Samsung Sliding PC 7 Series is expected to appear in March, priced at about $699, according to a recent LaptopMag.com article.

Microsoft displayed a new Microsoft Surface device at the CES kickoff. Samsung's SUR40 Surface product is thinner compared with previous such devices. The four-inch-thick table-top device can also be used as a kiosk, Angiulo explained. It has a dual-core CPU and uses a graphics processing unit from AMD. The SUR40 uses a new PixelSense technology to detect commands from users' fingers. Instead of tracking movements with multiple cameras under the screen's surface, PixelSense technology uses infrared sensors across the screen. Every pixel acts as a camera, tracking finger movements, Angiulo explained. The Royal Bank of Scotland has been testing the SUR40 and has tried using it to scan contest promotional flyers brought in by customers. The SUR40 will have a lower price than previous Surface devices, but Angiulo did not indicate what that price might be.

Ballmer said that all of the devices described by Angiulo would be "available in the next few months."

Next-Gen Windows on SoCs
In other CES device news, Microsoft indicated at the show that it will support system-on-a-chip (SoC) architectures with its "next version of Windows." That next version possibly may be called "Windows 8," although Microsoft hasn't announced a formal name for it yet.

Microsoft is working with Nvidia Corp. Qualcomm Inc. and Texas Instruments Inc., all based on the ARM architecture. Intel and AMD also are developing their own SoCs based on next-generation Windows. The very compact SoC processors likely will open up multiple form-factor options for devices running Microsoft's next-generation Windows OS. However, Microsoft's the next version of Windows could be released in about two years. If Microsoft sticks to its three-year Windows release cycle, the new OS and associated SoC-based devices might appear on the market around October 2012.

Xbox Kinect
Ballmer described 2010 as a banner year for Microsoft on the consumer front. The company launched Kinect for the Xbox 360 gaming console, Windows Phone 7 and Office 2010. He said that Microsoft had bet big on technology and that those bets had paid off in the form of Microsoft's natural user interface, smart client technology, machine learning advances and the cloud implementations.

Avatar Kinect, a new feature, was demonstrated at the CES kickoff. Ballmer showed the CES crowd how his own avatar, an animated likeness of himself, could demonstrate hand gestures and facial expressions using the Xbox camera. Up to seven friends can bring their avatars together in 15 virtual environments and share activities via Xbox Live. Avatars can do things together such as watch sports shows on ESPN and exchange comments. At the conclusion of the Avatar Kinect demo, Ballmer commented that "Maybe it's just me, but that avatar was pretty bald." Xbox Live Gold subscribers will be able to get access to Avatar Kinect for free, Ballmer said.

Xbox 360, in addition to serving as a gaming console, can stream music and videos. Microsoft is enabling Kinect voice control for viewing Netflix and Hulu videos, which will be available to Xbox Live Gold subscribers this spring. Users simply give a voice command, such as "stop" or "resume," along with hand gestures, to control the video display. Microsoft has sold more than 50 million Xbox 360 devices, Ballmer said. He added that there currently are more than 30 million Xbox Live members.

Windows Phone 7 Progress
Ballmer confirmed that Microsoft will issue Windows Phone 7 updates in the next few months. The updates will support a copy-and-paste function in the phones, and they will also add some performance improvements. Microsoft is working with Sprint and Verizon, which may offer Windows Phone 7 devices in "the first half of 2011." Microsoft claims that manufacturers have sold more than 1.5 million Windows Phone 7 devices in six weeks' time. Ballmer touted the quick developer success story for Windows Phone 7, saying that there are now more than 5,500 Windows Phone 7 applications available to consumers. Windows Phone 7 had its global rollout in mid-October. Nine phones were launched by Microsoft's hardware partners and Windows Phone 7 is now available from 60 mobile operators across 30 countries, Ballmer said.

Liz Sloan, a senior marketing manager with Microsoft's Mobile Communications Business, offered seven benefits of Windows Phone 7 at the CES kickoff. One of them is a dedicated camera in Windows Phone 7 that works even when the screen is locked, allowing photos to be taken on the fly and uploaded in seconds. Second on the list was the "glance and go" live tiles menu feature on the start screen. Third was voice control, which lets users search and find attractions based on their location using voice commands. The next items on Sloan's list included Bing search integration, the use of "hubs" to organize applications and multiple application choices. Finally, Microsoft has added Xbox Live to Windows Phone 7, which will allow people to play some Xbox games on their phones.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.