Thousands of people fought and sneaked their way into the Consumer Electronics Show keynote address Monday, Jan. 9. The evening affair, held in the massive Palazzo Ballroom at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, marked the final time Microsoft’s CEO would speak at the world’s largest electronics convention. For 14 years, either Steve Ballmer or former Microsoft CEO Bill Gates has keynoted the events, but this year the company announced it would no longer do so.
Microsoft’s final keynote commanded some measure of star power. Ubiquitous media presence and American Idol host Ryan Seacrest served as moderator of sorts, helping Ballmer introduce several current and forthcoming Microsoft technology.
The unlikely duo extolled the virtues of Microsoft’s Windows Phone, which Ballmer said was the only phone designed with people in mind first instead of apps.
“What we’ve done with Windows Phone is put the people that are important to you right in front of you. Windows Phone is the first phone that put people first,” Ballmer said, prior to announcing the first Nokia Windows Phone – the Lumia – to be made available in the U.S.
Ballmer and Seacrest turned their attention to Windows 8, which the company describes as “Windows reimagined” that has been forged by Microsoft’s increasing competition.
“Nothing better than good competition and I’m glad we’ve got Windows. Windows has been phenomenal,” Ballmer said.
The new OS (shown left) is starkly different from previous iterations, resembling a supercharged version of the interface that exists on Windows Phones. The change is radical. It’s also, the company claimed, designed for PCs as well as tablets. Supporting the assertion, a Microsoft spokeswoman demonstrating Windows 8 announced that in February the Windows Store will open – an app store serving Windows Phones and Windows 8.
Another Windows 8 feature heavily touted was a new interface designed to work as well with touch as with keyboards and mice. Also included is a new, “metro style” version of Internet Explorer. The browser, Microsoft said, was designed as touch first and is HTML 5-based.
Seacrest, in a line of questioning following the Windows 8 demo, asked Ballmer whether current Windows users would need to upgrade their hardware once again.
“Every Windows 7 PC will be ready to run Windows 8 on day one,” Ballmer said, who then introduced a choir that proceeded to sing verbatim – and in loud gospel style – recent Tweets about the keynote address. The interlude was apparently too much for some who scrambled for the exits.
The keynote also included a presentation covering updates to the Xbox 360 and the further incorporation of Microsoft Kinect – the company’s motion control technology – into the gaming platform. New features allow users to control the Xbox interface using only voice commands.