Q&A: Microsoft Windows Powered Smart Displays Set the Home PC Free

LAS VEGAS, Nov. 17, 2002 — Want to check the latest football box scores on the Web without turning away from the game on TV? How about answering e-mails from a lawn chair while still watching your kids in the backyard?

With the arrival of Windows Powered Smart Displays, consumers who seek the mobility of a handheld computing device — without sacrificing any of the power and utility of their desktop PC — will have nothing to lose but their cords.

At COMDEX Fall 2002, Keith White, senior director in Microsoft’s Embedded Appliance Platform Group, demos a Windows Powered Smart Display screen expected to be available in January. Click image for high-res verson.

The first Smart Displays, a new class of monitors that connect wirelessly to PCs based on the Windows XP operating system, will reach consumers in early January. Today at the COMDEX Fall 2002 technology conference, Microsoft and its hardware partner ViewSonic Corp. launched an online pre-ordering program for the first Smart Displays through such retailers as CompUSA and Amazon.com. Conference attendees can try out the thin, portable computing screens in the Smart Displays tent at Comdex.

PressPass asked Todd Warren, general manager of the Microsoft Embedded Appliance Platform Group, to describe how Smart Displays work and how consumers can use the new devices to extend the reach of their home PC.

PressPass: What is the significance of today’s news about the launch of Smart Displays and the pre-order program?

Warren: In a relatively short period of time, Microsoft and its partners have gone from showing a very early prototype of the product to actually finalizing the software and hardware. Because we’ve had such a great deal of interest and feedback from consumers regarding Smart Displays over the past 11 months, we wanted to give them the opportunity to pre-order Smart Displays online and be among the first people to receive the devices when they become available Jan. 8 during CES 2003. As people look for cool gadgets during the holiday season, they can reserve one of the ViewSonic air panel 110 or 150 Smart Displays and receive it as soon as it’s available. The air panel models feature 10-inch and 15-inch screens and weigh 2.8 and 5.8 pounds, respectively.

PressPass: How will the pre-order program work? When will people receive their Smart Displays?

Warren: ViewSonic is offering a special promotion to customers who order a Smart Displays device before the end of December. People interested in finding out more about the pre-order program for Smart Displays can go to Microsoft’s Smart Displays Web site at http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/smartdisplay/retailers . The ViewSonic offering also includes an upgrade to Windows XP Professional and a wireless USB adaptor for the host PC — which together are valued at approximately US$300. In addition to being among the first to get a Smart Display in January, customers who take advantage of the pre-order program will receive a free docking station, which represents up to a $199 value.

PressPass: What will Microsoft and its Smart Displays partners show at Comdex this week?

Warren: We’ve set up a hands-on demonstration tent just outside of the main exhibit hall where people can get a quick overview of the Smart Displays technology, and then sit down in a relaxed, home-like environment to use a Smart Displays device. Visitors will be able to do things like browse the Web and check their e-mail without having to sit in front of a PC. If people like what they’re experiencing, they’ll be able to pre-order a Smart Displays device right then and there. They can also learn more about Smart Displays at Booth 5058 in the Comdex main exhibit hall.

PressPass: How did the concept for Smart Displays originate, and how do you think consumers will use the device?

Warren: Smart Displays are about the evolution of the monitor, and enable consumers to access the Windows XP experience from any room in their home, at any time. There are three pieces to the Smart Displays system: a host PC running on Windows XP Professional Service Pack 1, an 802.11 wireless network, and a Smart Display device.

The first wave of Internet appliances that tried to provide a Web-browsing or e-mail experience apart from the PC didn’t fully meet consumers’ expectations. They left people wishing for more functionality and yearning for their comfortable desktop applications and all their personal data. One of the key benefits of Smart Displays is that you have full access to all of the applications and data that reside on your Windows XP PC.

Initially, we see these devices appealing to individuals and families who want the freedom to move beyond whatever room in the home where their PC happens to be located, but still be able to work with personal files, photos and e-mail on their PC. The idea is sort of analogous to the cordless telephone, which allows you to walk around the house while still having a phone conversation. Smart Displays free you from the constraints of the cable connecting your monitor to your PC, so you can choose to read documents, browse the Web and do other everyday computing activities from wherever is most comfortable and convenient.

For example, someone watching a basketball game or a travel show on the TV might want to send an instant message to a friend with a comment about how their favorite player is doing, or log onto Expedia.com and check the cost of a plane ticket to the exotic vacation spot that’s featured on the show. But if that means getting up, walking away from the TV screen and going upstairs to use your PC, most people probably wouldn’t bother. With a Smart Display that’s right there on the coffee table and has instant-on capability, you can pick it up and connect back to your PC from the couch as soon as something piques your interest.

PressPass: What sort of consumer demand fueled the development of Smart Displays, and how do you foresee consumers getting the greatest benefit from using Smart Displays in the home?

Warren: The benefits really arise from being able to free your PC from its physical location and move freely around your home, without worrying about things like plugging into an electrical outlet or connecting to a phone line or synchronizing data between the device and the PC. Mobility is certainly the biggest advantage that we’ve heard from people who have tested the Smart Displays.

Our research has shown that close to half of people’s home PCs sit in a den or home-office environment. In other countries especially, many people use their PC in a dual-purpose room such as a storage area or spare bedroom. Often, these types of work spaces are not optimal for computer use. So, the idea of allowing people to access their PC in more relaxed, social settings is very appealing to many consumers who don’t want to be confined to one room in their home.

For people who spend a lot of hours doing things like browsing the Web and reading e-mail each week, being apart from a spouse or other family members during that time can take a big toll on relationships. Why not be in the same room together and have a casual conversation while one person is also working on the computer? Smart Displays enable you to make those choices. Once consumers realize the scope of what’s possible in home computing with Smart Displays, we think these types of scenarios will become quite valuable to them and they’ll start to think, “How did I ever live without that?”

PressPass: What have been the greatest challenges in pioneering this new category of consumer devices, and how has Microsoft addressed those challenges?

Warren: Since the Smart Displays product concept is so new, we’ve had to spend a great deal of time articulating what that concept is, as well as what that isn’t. For example, Smart Displays aren’t meant to be a replacement for your notebook PC, and they’re not meant to be a Tablet PC device. What they are is the next generation of the portable, versatile monitor. The interest level in the product has been incredibly strong and broad based. We’ve been trying to take advantage of every opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities of these Smart Devices for people and to explain what this technology can do for them.

PressPass: What kinds of user feedback have you received that will improve the experience with Smart Displays?

Warren: We’ve had hundreds of people from around the world testing Smart Displays and giving us suggestions across the board, from simplifying the steps involved in setting up the device to improving the Smart Displays interface. Seeing all the different places and situations in which people like to use the devices, whether sitting by the swimming pool or fixing dinner in the kitchen, has also been an eye-opener. As a result of seeing how people use the devices in their daily routine, we’ve been able to make quite a few improvements to things like the setup and the wireless connections and the overall capabilities of these Smart Displays.

PressPass: Going from concept to launch in a year’s time is pretty impressive. How has Microsoft been able to move ahead so quickly with Smart Displays?

Warren: Well, our hardware partners have obviously worked very hard to develop and test these devices. Their ability to rapidly build products on this new platform also says a great deal about the quality of the underlying technology that powers Smart Devices. That extends from Windows XP Professional, with all of its integrated wireless capabilities and its remote desktop protocol, to the Windows CE.NET operating system upon which the Smart Displays platform is based. Developers and hardware manufacturers can use that foundation to quickly create a highly customized experience for the user.

PressPass: In what other ways have Microsoft’s partners been instrumental in developing and expanding upon the Smart Displays concept?

Warren: Microsoft works closely with partners on the software platform for their products, but at the end of the day it’s really the partners who deliver the devices that consumers buy. Each of our Smart Devices partners have their own strengths in terms of product designs, from making the devices as light and thin as possible to creating Smart Displays in cool shapes and colors. Some of the partners are working on ways to make their Smart Displays more attractive when they’re not in use, such as enabling the device to show photos that the user has stored on his or her PC — in essence, functioning like an electronic picture frame that rests on your coffee table or bookshelf. Such added capabilities are what our Smart Displays partners have contributed, and over the coming months I think we’ll see more examples like that.

PressPass: What factors influenced Microsoft and its partners to launch Smart Displays in January, rather than this holiday season as originally planned?

Warren: Considering how much effort Microsoft and its partners have poured into building these products, we agreed that delivering the best possible hardware and software in these first Smart Displays was much more important than meeting some arbitrary deadline. We chose to focus on improving people’s overall experience of the Smart Displays so that in early January, consumers will be able to buy the best possible product. We’ve used that extra time to do more testing as well as to make sure the product that comes out of the box is easier to set up and begin using right away. Plus, with the pre-order program that we’ve established, holiday shoppers can still give these devices as gifts this year.

PressPass: What is Microsoft’s long-term vision for Smart Displays?

Warren: We foresee this technology being used in many different types of small- and large-screen displays. As the PC continues to evolve into the digital entertainment hub of people’s homes, Smart Displays will give them broader and richer access to music, digital photographs and everything else that’s available on the traditional desktop computer.

Freeing people from the confines of the desktop will change the dynamics of where people use their PC, the ways that they use it and how often they use it. That’s the fundamental concept of Smart Displays and what these devices can enable from a long-term perspective.

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