In his keynote address at the 2004 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week, Microsoft chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates expanded on the company’s vision for “seamless computing,” demonstrating software designed to deliver unified digital experiences and make the technology in consumers’ lives work as a connected whole.
Gates introduced several products and services that bring the company’s technologies to the world of consumer electronics, including new Microsoft Windows Media Center Extender technologies and Portable Media Centers, which make the digital entertainment experiences of Media Center PCs available throughout the home. Gates also announced retail availability of Smart Watches — wristwatches that provide access to personalized information through Microsoft’s MSN Direct service.
“As computing moves to the center of our lives and more of our everyday experiences go digital, great software is the key to making all these devices and services work well together,” Gates said. “Our vision is to deliver the software that enables a seamless technology experience for people wherever they are — in the home, in the office or on the go.”
Before an audience of more than 1,200 attendees at the Las Vegas Hilton, Gates showed how Microsoft’s vision will help people manage information overload, enjoy digital entertainment and make the growing amount of technology in their lives work on their behalf and under their control. Microsoft’s role, Gates said, is to create innovations that make it easy for device manufacturers and consumer electronics companies to build compelling technology for entertainment, creativity and productivity in the home.
The New MSN
Gates emphasized the growing value of software services for consumers, unveiling a new version of MSN designed specifically for broadband users, along with free broadband content and a portfolio of new premium Web services.
Television personality Jay Leno joined Gates on stage to introduce MSN Video, a new service that delivers free broadband video content to all MSN.com and My MSN visitors in the United States. The service was launched with a range of content partners, including Discovery Communications, NBC News and NBC Entertainment, NHL.com and Showtime Networks.
More than 25,000 customers participated in Microsoft’s managed beta program, providing feedback during development of the MSN Premium all-in-one subscription service. MSN Premium includes communication tools for sharing digital photos and keeping in touch with friends and family, plus tools to help block spam, guard against viruses and stop unwanted pop-up ads.
Gates described MSN Premium as one of the best values Microsoft has ever offered. Purchased separately, the software included in MSN Premium would cost more than US$350 per year, he said, while MSN Premium sells for $9.95 per month or $99.95 per year.
Gates called attention to the momentum of digital entertainment, as growing numbers of people enjoy digital music, photos, movies, television and games in the home and on the go. He emphasized Microsoft’s software innovations that extend the reach of digital media beyond the PC to anywhere people want it, unveiling Windows Media Center Extender technologies that allow the Windows XP Media Center to be used as an entertainment hub for the home.
With a Windows Media Center Extender product, people who use a Media Center PC to listen to music, record television shows, view photos or download movies on demand can enjoy these experiences on any television in the home, even if the PC is being used at the same time by another family member elsewhere in the home.
Microsoft is working with several manufacturers, including Alienware, Dell, Gateway, HP and Samsung, to develop new televisions and set-top boxes based on this technology and bring them to market in time for the 2004 holiday season.
Not Just for Enthusiasts
Gates then unveiled the Xbox Media Center Extender Kit, which combines a dedicated remote control with software that extends the Windows XP Media Center Edition experience throughout the home, allowing consumers to enjoy music, recorded television and photos from their PC using their Xbox game console. Gates said the game console is on track to meet its shipment forecast of 14.5 million to 16 million units sold worldwide by June 2004.
The presentation continued with a demonstration of the first Portable Media Center device from Creative Labs, which is designed to make it easy for people to take their photos, music and home videos with them wherever they go. Gates also revealed that Napster, CinemaNow and EMI Music are the first content suppliers to announce their support of Portable Media Center devices at launch.
“Digital entertainment is not just for enthusiasts anymore — it’s a major part of everyone’s life,” Gates said. “Today, Microsoft is delivering the software that helps people easily create and share their digital memories, and enjoy amazing games and digital entertainment wherever they are.”
Noting the growing adoption of digital photos and video, Gates then demonstrated two technologies under development at Microsoft Research that explore new ways for people to interact with their digital media.
The first project, code-named “Media Variations,” will offer a novel way for people to explore large amounts of connected information. In the demonstration, Gates showed how users could find movies they were interested in based on the connections between them, such as common actors, directors or genres, and browse through them using a rich, three-dimensional interface.
The second research project, code-named “MSR Media Browser,” offers a consistent and seamless interface that helps people find and work with “clusters” of photos and video on the PC. When released, the technology will let users search based on when photos were taken, who they feature and other attributes.
Smart Watches and Phones
Demonstrating the expanding reach of software into new devices and services, Gates announced the retail availability of MSN Direct-ready Smart Watches from Fossil and Suunto. MSN Direct, part of Microsoft’s Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT) initiative, will let people access information with a glance at their wrist. The watches offer personal messages and appointment reminders, plus continuously refreshed news, weather and financial information.
Gates showed how people can configure and personalize their watches through the MSN Direct site. The MSN Direct service is available in more than 100 of the largest metropolitan areas in North America. The watches are available for purchase at Amazon.com and at manufacturers’ Web sites, and they soon will appear in major retail channels. The watches retail for $129 to $299; MSN Direct service is available for $9.95 per month or $59 per year.
Gates then highlighted the momentum behind Windows-powered smartphones, noting that research firm IDC predicts more than 20 million converged mobile devices will ship worldwide in 2004, an increase of more than 133 percent from 2003. Gates predicted a bright future for automotive-based computing systems — called telematics — with Microsoft’s first concept cars on display at CES, a growing number of devices shipping with Windows Automotive technology, and the arrival of hands-free Pocket PC operation through the recently launched Microsoft Voice Command software.
Opportunities for Software
Gates concluded his presentation with an upbeat view of the consumer electronics industry in the coming year, noting that the convergence of PC capabilities with consumer electronics devices is leading to greater choice and convenience for consumers and new opportunities for PC and consumer electronics companies.
He emphasized Microsoft’s continued commitment to working with the industry to enable new experiences in home productivity, communications and entertainment, and predicted that 2004 will bring broader mainstream consumer adoption of a wide range of “digital lifestyle” technologies.
“The innovation taking place in the PC and consumer electronics industries is delivering on the promise of the Digital Decade, with new technologies, devices, applications and services that will make computing a central and exciting part of everyday life,” Gates said.