CES Wrap Up: Microsoft Makes Mark with New Windows Devices, Surface and Xbox

LAS VEGAS – Jan. 7, 2011 – Microsoft and its partners rolled out a number of new devices at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), ranging from several new Windows form factors, to a new Surface device, to new avatar capabilities on Xbox, to a new multi-touch mouse.

The new and revamped products “resulted from big technology bets that we’ve made,” Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said during his keynote speech on Wednesday. “Bets on the cloud, natural user interface, new smart client technology, machine learning.”

Ballmer said that it is an exciting time for Microsoft, partners and customers across the board. Even with all that Microsoft showcased at CES, from what’s next in Windows to the latest capabilities with Kinect, “the best is yet to come,” he said.

Here’s a selection of top news from Microsoft at this year’s CES.

New Windows Laptops, Tablets and Slates Showcased

Several Windows 7 PCs set CES abuzz, including a laptop, tablet and slate showcased by Ballmer and Mike Angiulo in Wednesday’s keynote. Angiulo, corporate vice president of Windows Planning, Hardware and PC Ecosystem, was interrupted with applause by an enthusiastic audience several times during his demo. “Go ahead, let it out,” he told them, eliciting cheers and applause.

The Acer ICONIA laptop has two 14-inch, multi-touch displays – one as a screen, and one where the laptop’s keyboard is traditionally located. Whether browsing the Web or working on Office documents, content flows seamlessly across upper and lower touch screens or, by placing 10 fingers on the lower multi-touch display, users can activate a touch-screen keyboard.

Angiulo also showed an engineering prototype of the Samsung Sliding PC 7 Series, coming in March. At first glance, the Samsung is an ultra-slim, light PC that looks like a multi-touch tablet. However, sliding the display into place reveals a physical keyboard so users can enjoy the best of both worlds – a touch tablet, as well as a more familiar PC keyboard.

Also shown, a new ASUS Tablet PC will ship with a wireless keyboard, and is built for a small work area – such as an airplane or a small desk. The tablet responds to both touch and the use of a special “pen” and can recognize handwriting in 26 languages. The gorilla glass display, touch sensor, LCD and electromagnetic digitizer are bonded together as a single unit, eliminating the air gap that’s usually under the screen and making it brighter while requiring 20 percent less power.

All three devices are available to order now in the Microsoft store on Amazon.com, Angiulo said. “I think they’re going to be pretty popular,” he added.

The Next Generation of Microsoft Surface – LCDs That Can ‘See’

Ballmer unveiled and demoed the new Microsoft Surface on stage, showing a thinner device that enables thin LCD screens to “see” without the use of cameras.

Created in partnership with Samsung, the Samsung SUR40 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.

“What we’ve done is taken Surface technology and embedded it into an LCD [liquid crystal display],” said Panos Panay, general manager of Microsoft Surface. “Essentially we’ve created LCDs that can see.”

Microsoft did that through its new PixelSense™ technology, which enables the pixels in the LCD screen to sense what’s touching it and instantly process that information, said Somanna Palacanda, director of Microsoft Surface. “That means we’ve taken the power of the camera and put it right into the pixels themselves,” he said. “Now with a screen that’s four inches thick, customers have the option to use it as a table, hang it on the wall, or embed it into furniture.”

New Xbox Avatar Capabilities on Display

Ballmer appeared on screen during his keynote as his avatar when he introduced Avatar Kinect, which uses Kinect’s facial recognition technology to let a person not only control their avatar’s movements but also to project their expressions onto their avatar; when they smile, frown, nod and speak, the avatar will do the same.

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.

Also 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.”

Copy-and-Paste Coming to Windows Phone 7

A series of Windows Phone 7 updates are coming 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.”

Touch Mouse Brings Multi-Touch to Fingertips Windows

The Microsoft Touch Mouse debuted at CES, introducing Windows 7 users to a new way to interact with their PCs when it is available in June.

The Touch Mouse lets users do everything they’re used to doing with a mouse, such as point and click, but adds multi-touch functionality that helps them navigate Windows 7 easier and faster with a flick of a finger, said Hrvoje Benko, a researcher with Microsoft Research (MSR) Redmond who helped develop Touch Mouse.

“This mouse is designed to optimize your experience with Windows 7,” he said. “The tasks you do every day – minimizing and maximizing windows, scrolling through Web pages – all that functionality is available right at the top of the mouse with a touch of a finger.”

Users of the new mouse can use one finger to scroll 360 degrees through a document. Using two fingers allows them to manage a window they’re in while also performing tasks such as maximizing and minimizing windows or snapping them left or right. And using three fingers allows them to manage their whole desktop by switching between different tasks or clearing all open windows. Also, a flick of the thumb allows them to move forward and back in programs such as Internet Explorer, PowerPoint, and File Manager.

Flickr Apps for Windows Phone 7 and Windows 7 Synced with Azure

Microsoft and Flickr announced plans to make it easier for consumers to organize and share their photos anytime, anywhere.

New Flickr applications built for Windows Phone 7 and Windows 7 slates will be released at the end of January. Supported by Windows Azure, these apps will make it easier to use Flickr to share and organize photos anywhere, said Liz Ngo, Microsoft’s senior development evangelist for consumer independent software vendors.

“These apps provide a visually stunning interface and multi-modal connectivity between devices,” Ngo said. Flickr utilized Microsoft tools and platforms built in the cloud to provide a seamless context-aware experience across phones, slates and PCs, she said, creating a fluid experience for their consumers.

The Flickr apps will have an embedded connected-device synchronization to share content between the two device types. So no matter what device consumers use to access Flickr content, they’ll see the same context, the same photo, and the same app.

Learn more about the upcoming Flickr apps.

Next Version of Windows to Run on System-on-a-Chip

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.