Editor’s note – Jan. 5, 2011 –
This article was updated post-publication with additional quotes from Steve Ballmer’s keynote address.
LAS VEGAS – Jan. 5, 2011 – Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, giving his annual keynote speech to kick off the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), thanked Microsoft’s 1 billion customers for making 2010 a special year.
“(It) was a very, very exciting year for our customers,” Ballmer said. “We launched Windows Phone 7, Office 2010, and Kinect, and we introduced Internet Explorer 9 and Office 365. We saw great growth in our Bing and Azure services, and with the amazing success of Windows 7, it’s truly been a year like none other.”
Ballmer also looked ahead to what Microsoft will deliver for partners and customers in 2011.
“The products that I mentioned (above) resulted from big technology bets that we’ve made,” Ballmer said. “Bets on the cloud, natural user interface, new smart client technology, machine learning.”
He then went on to do several demos that he said show the impact of some of those technology bets will have in the future through the lens of the TV, Xbox, Windows Phone, and the Windows PC.
Earlier in the day, Microsoft also announced that the next version of Windows will support System on a Chip (SoC) architectures including ARM-based systems from partners NVIDIA, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments as well as x86 systems from Intel and AMD. Read more about the announcement here.
‘Biggest Year Ever’ for Xbox
New Kinect-enabled entertainment experiences and historic sales figures led the Xbox team’s announcements at CES.
The last two months of 2010 belonged to Kinect. In its first 60 days on the market, 8 million Kinect sensors were sold, the company announced at CES. That figure significantly outpaced the 5 million units the company had expected to sell in 2010.
“We beat that forecast,” Ballmer said. “This has been the biggest holiday and the biggest year ever for Xbox.”
Overall, last year was the biggest year ever for the Xbox brand, said David Dennis, group public relations manager for Xbox. “Over the holiday season, console sales for the Xbox 360 hit 50 million, making it the No. 1-selling console in North America for the past six months,” he said. “The Xbox LIVE community continued to grow in leaps and bounds last year, adding a new member every two seconds. Xbox LIVE has more than 30 million active members.”
At CES, Microsoft also announced new Kinect-enabled experiences that aim to transform entertainment in the living room. A new experience called Avatar Kinect will bring a player’s avatar to life in a whole new way, using facial recognition technology to let a person not only control their avatar’s movements but also their expressions; when they smile, frown, nod and speak, the avatar will do the same.
Microsoft will continue to take Kinect’s controller-free experience beyond gaming and into entertainment throughout the year. This spring, Xbox LIVE Gold subscribers will be able to use Kinect to control their Netflix experience. Viewers will be able to pause, rewind and fast-forward their streaming movies with only their voice or gestures.
The company also announced that this spring, Hulu Plus will come to Xbox LIVE as a Kinect-enabled experience. As with Netflix, subscribers will be able to use controller-free motion and voice capabilities to instantly watch full screen popular TV shows anytime in HD.
“You’re going to continue to see more fun, more entertainment, and more innovation from our Xbox team in 2011,” Ballmer said. “Xbox today is going where no gaming system has ever gone. Your Xbox is becoming the hub of your living room. It is your gaming system, but it’s your movies, it’s your TV shows, and it’s your sporting events. It’s your social interactions, all delivered directly to the biggest screen in your house.”
Enhancements to Windows Phone 7
Ballmer also announced that Microsoft will release a series of Windows Phone 7 updates over the next few months, including adding the copy-and-paste feature and improving the phone’s performance when loading or switching between applications. Microsoft also is working to make Windows Phone 7 available from Sprint and Verizon in the first half of 2011, and more languages will become available later this year.
“Windows Phone 7 is the best new phone out there,” Ballmer said. “As people try it, and discover its new features and beautiful hardware, they see the difference. They see how it makes everything from gaming to social networking to productivity better than on any other phone.”
Manufacturers sold more than 1.5 million Windows Phone 7 phones in the first six weeks of availability, said Aaron Woodman, director of the Mobile Communications Business at Microsoft. “The reality is, this launch was the first of many steps,” he said, adding that people who have bought the phone are giving it great reviews. “Product satisfaction is the most important figure to us, and we have the highest product satisfaction number we’ve ever had.”
Ballmer said that high satisfaction rating bodes well for the future of the phone.
“When I get a chance to show people a Windows Phone, the feedback that I hear is very, very gratifying,” he said. “People tell me how snappy it is, how easy to use, how personal it really feels, and perhaps as importantly, all-in, simply how beautiful it really looks.”
The phone’s app marketplace continues to grow as well, with more than 100 new apps added per day – there are now more than 5,500 apps available to Windows Phone 7 customers.
The Next Generation of Microsoft Surface – LCDs That Can ‘See’
Also during Ballmer’s keynote speech, Microsoft unveiled the next generation of Microsoft Surface, built upon a new technology that enables thin LCD screens to “see” without the use of cameras.
Created in partnership with Samsung, the Samsung SUR40 for Microsoft Surface is a major step forward in the surface computing category. It incorporates all the key features of the original Surface product – a massive multi-touch experience, the ability to recognize fingers, hands, and objects – as well as a new technology that has enabled a more flexible form factor.
Just Scratching the Surface
Looking at the year ahead, Ballmer noted that it is an exciting time for Microsoft, partners and customers across the board. Even with all the amazing experiences talked about at CES, from what’s next in Windows to the latest capabilities with Kinect, “the best is yet to come,” he said.