Q&A: Microsoft Delivers Seamless Computing Experiences to Consumers

LAS VEGAS, Jan. 7, 2004 — For years, the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has been a playground for audiophiles and gadget enthusiasts, where companies such as Microsoft introduce new products and services that push the boundaries of consumer technology. At the 2004 CES Microsoft is demonstrating new technology that will simplify and untangle technology for consumers.

John O’Rourke, Senior Director, Consumer Strategy Division. Click image for high-res version.

Microsoft is announcing at the 2004 International CES a series of consumer products and services that extend the company’s vision of “seamless computing,” enabling consumers to more easily access information and digital entertainment wherever and whenever they need it across a variety of devices. From Internet-enabled wristwatches to new versions of the MSN online service optimized for high-speed data connections to tools that turn the Xbox video game system into a sort of in-home multimedia router — extending digital entertainment experiences from the PC to any TV in the home — Microsofts newest products are more interconnected and easier to use than ever.

To better understand how consumers will benefit from Microsoft’s vision for seamless computing, PressPass spoke with John O’Rourke, Microsoft senior director of consumer strategy.

PressPass: How is the concept of seamless computing pertinent to consumers?

John O’Rourke: Seamless computing is a vision that encompasses Microsoft’s efforts to use the power of software to make the applications, content, and hardware devices people use work as a coordinated whole. Although it also has valuable application in businesses and the workplace, seamless computing is equally applicable to the home and throughout our everyday lives. It offers people communication tools that help them stay connected and share their digital memories, it helps them get more things done and keep their lives organized, and it opens up compelling new entertainment possibilities.

As it specifically relates to the new consumer products and services we announced at CES, we’re delivering seamless access to information and seamless digital entertainment experiences. For example, our new MSN Direct-ready Smart Watches allow people to get reminders, news, personal messages and other information wirelessly without pushing buttons or inputting codes. All they have to do is glance at their wrist and simply push a few buttons. Meanwhile, the Windows eHome Division and the new Portable Media Centers are helping to break down the barriers between PCs, televisions, and other vehicles that connect people with their digital media.

PressPass: How do Microsoft’s increasingly interconnected consumer products benefit consumers?

O’Rourke: Today, people are busier than ever, and they information they interact with is increasingly in a digital format. From photography to personal websites, home movies and digital music files, digital content and entertainment is everywhere. But there’s a lot of complexity and confusion that comes with trying to access and share these digital experiences. In the workplace, many businesses have information-technology support staff to help solve computer problems. But you shouldn’t have to be the chief information officer of your home. People want technology that adapts to their needs, rather than forcing them to work or play in a set way.

The concept of seamless computing means that smart software can extend your digital media – the home videos, photos and information you use every day – across a wide range of devices, and overcome the complexity you face when using technology today. Microsoft strives to help people save time and have more fun with their digital media experiences whether at home or on the go.

PressPass: Tell us about the new Smart Watches with MSN Direct and how they can help busy consumers.

O’Rourke: MSN Direct-ready Smart Watches are a fun new accessory that gives people the information they want at their fingertips — or, more accurately, on their wrist. The watches provide information such as news, weather, stocks, appointment reminders and personal messages. They rely on information feeds from MSN Direct, an extension of the MSN online service and its personalized content, so the information is continuously refreshed to keep people informed and in touch even when they are on the go. MSN Direct extends the familiar MSN experience directly to consumers through this wearable technology that’s both informative and fun.

Microsoft developed the technology that makes all of this possible, which we call Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT). The SPOT team has been hard at work with leading watchmakers Fossil and Suunto developing these Smart Watches, which are a great example of the new capabilities that seamless computing can deliver.

PressPass: Will 2004 be the year of the connected home?

O’Rourke: Yes, consumers are ready for a more integrated in-home computing and entertainment experience. They’re tired of things like tangled wires, not having a DVD player in the bedroom or the inability to listen to the favorite music saved on their computer when away from home. The industry has made strides in terms of delivering easy-to-use hardware and interesting digital media content. At Microsoft, we continue to extend the Windows XP Media Center Edition platform to deliver great value and convenience to consumers in the digital home.

The new Windows Media Center Extender Technology announced at CES consists of software that allows consumers to access their favorite digital entertainment, such as live and recorded TV, photos, movies and music that resides on their Windows XP Media Center Edition PC, from any room in the home regardless of where the computer is located. And the new Extender technology allows multiple connections, so consumers can enjoy digital entertainment in another room even if their PC is being used simultaneously by another family member. We’ve also introduced a new kit that enables consumers to use their Xbox video game system to access content from their Media Center Edition PC.

New content and innovative applications also are in development by partners such as ESPN and Kodak, designed for the Media Center Edition PCs and intended to be viewed from a distance on a TV using a remote control.

The seamless computing vision calls for simplifying consumers’ lives through advanced software, and our new Media Center Extenders are a further step toward giving consumers the flexibility to enjoy their content when and where they want. I think our leadership in connected home products is being recognized and this market is poised for considerable growth.

PressPass: How has Microsoft improved its Xbox video game system?

O’Rourke: We have improved the Xbox Live online gaming service. More than 500,000 people today already play games – there are 70 online-enabled games to choose from – on Xbox Live in 19 countries, and now we’ve made it easier to use than ever.

Also, the introduction of the Xbox Media Center Extender Kit, a software and hardware product that connects the Xbox to a Windows Media Center Edition-powered PC, enables consumers to transfer media such as digital photos, music, and videos from their computer to a television in the living room, den, bedroom, or wherever. Xbox Media Center Extender Kit brings these kinds of digital entertainment capabilities to your TV through the Xbox so people have even more choice of where and how they enjoy digital media at home.

Remember, even before these improvements, the Xbox video game console already enjoyed a strong following among consumers. Xbox is the No. 2 video game system on the market, with 23 percent market share, and Xbox software sales increased in 2003 by 35 percent. The recent holiday season was particularly strong, with 46 new software titles released in November and six of the industry’s top 25 selling titles are available exclusively for Xbox.

PressPass: How is the MSN consumer online service preparing for the future?

O’Rourke: High-speed Internet connections are the way of the future, and already today, research shows that nearly one-third of home Internet users connect via broadband. To better serve our consumer users, Microsoft has developed a new version of MSN designed specifically for broadband connections, which was announced at CES.

The introduction of MSN Premium and MSN Plus subscription services for high-speed, or broadband, gives consumers a set of home pages, video services and new content optimized specifically for these increasingly popular high-speed data connections.

Specifically, the new MSN Plus includes a revamped main MSN.com Web site, MyMSN personalized homepage and other related free services, while the MSN Premium delivers a package of software tools and applications designed to help consumers take full advantage of broadband Internet connections. Our new video content partnerships with NBC Entertainment, Sony TV and Discovery Networks, for example, are part of the new MSN Video service, which differentiates MSN from other online services by offering a range of broadband video content for free. MSN Video allows users to watch only the segments of video programming that they are most interested in.

PressPass: How are other Microsoft technologies contributing to the vision of seamless computing in the consumer space?

O’Rourke: Microsoft has a variety of other products and services that contribute to the vision of seamless computing for consumers, but which are targeted are specific market needs. For example, Microsoft Broadband Networking products let consumers create high-performance wireless home networking, and new enhancements have improved the ease of use, security and performance of these products. We currently offer several new 802.11g high-speed wireless home networking products, including the Wireless Base Station, Wireless PCI Adapter, Wireless Notebook Adapter and Wireless Networking Kit. We also have introduced the new Xbox Wireless Adapter that enables video game players to play Xbox Live online games on any Xbox-connected TV in the home without wires by adding Xbox to an existing 802.11g or 802.11b Wi-Fi network. Now gamers can play anywhere in the house without the hassle of wires and drilling holes in the wall.

Microsoft has also gained broad early industry support for its upcoming Windows Media Connect technology, which is designed to help hardware manufacturers more easily develop devices that play digital media files over home networks. Windows Media Connect technology will help overcome the problem of incompatibility between proprietary devices and their difficulty in accessing media stored on a PC. We know we’re on the right track because we’ve gained strong support from major online music industry players such as LAUNCH Music on Yahoo!, MusicNow and Napster.

Finally, this week we unveiled the newest version of Microsoft TV Foundation Edition, our digital cable television software platform. The new Microsoft TV Foundation Edition provides cable operators with support for high-definition television (HDTV) programming and digital video recording capabilities.

Together these efforts show Microsoft’s commitment to making it easier for everyone to create and enjoy digital games, music, TV and movies easier for everyone.

PressPass: How will consumers’ computing experiences be more seamless in the future?

O’Rourke: Many of the products and services Microsoft has announced at CES will be available this year, and we expect them to become a major part of the emerging “digital lifestyle.” Because these products and services are designed to work well together for a more interconnected experience, consumers will enjoy seamless access to their personalized information and digital entertainment experiences. But we will continue to work hard toward further connection and convergence of applications, content and devices. These are exciting times, and Microsoft products will make technology more compelling and useful for consumers and provide even richer entertainment and home automation experiences for consumers in the future.

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