Last night, Steve Ballmer kicked off CES 2012 with the last keynote Microsoft will lead, a role it has played at the show for the past 14 years. Ballmer covered Windows Phone 7, the upcoming Windows 8 and Xbox as his main areas of focus, going through each, interview-style with sidekick Ryan Seacrest.
Image Courtesy CNNMoney
Striking to me about Microsoft’s product rundown, led by Ballmer and various product heads, was the focus on the interaction users have with the various computing systems the company creates. When talking about Windows Phone 7, Ballmer repeatedly talked about the use of what Microsoft creatively dubs “Speech” (I guess all the other, effeminate, culturally tone deaf names were taken) launches music, texts, and other enabled applications on the phone. Voice interaction, not just voice recognition, is becoming a standard feature set on most phones.
When Windows product group CMO Tammy Reller took the stage to talk about Windows 8, it was as if someone in front of her was continually flashing cue cards reminder her to say “…and mouse and keyboard,” every time she referred to a touch- or gesture-enabled feature of the forthcoming OS. Granted most of the speculation around Win 8 centers on its use for tablets, it was clear that we should be expecting a touch-enabled future for OS’es beyond our smartphones and tablets.
I also spent some time with Nokia execs last evening who were even more vocal about the voice interaction around their newly announced Lumia 900 phone as well as other phones in the Lumia family, like the 710 launching with US carrier T-Mobile. It’s clear that the proactive way in which we interact with our devices – sumoning the to complete a computing task – is going to soon be a thing of the past led by the lowered barrier of natural language and gesture interaction, and the impact goes well beyond mobile devices and PCs.
As part of the Microsoft keynote, a demonstration of new features of XBox was presented, the idea, to showcase the tight integration between game console, PC and mobile device, the latter serving as, you guessed it, voice-enabled remote control. Kinect, Microsoft’s gesture and movement recognizing accessory for Xbox, allows users to interact with gaming using bodily motion. It’s an interesting feature for games, however, last night was demonstrated as a means to interact with television programming - Sesame Street, no less – and in a passing comment, Ballmer noted, “and coming to Windows PCs Feb 1, 2012.” A logo slide shoed parma and health, aerospace and education companies among those developing for the PC-Kinect combo.
I’m expecting to see a lot more natural interaction technology in the coming days at CES, but one thing is already clear only a day in – you are your next controller, remote, keyboard and stylus. Next stop? Sentient devices that sense and act without the user’s intervention, but we’ll save that for CES 2013. Maybe it’ll help shorten these cab lines…