News from Microsoft was expected Sunday night. It was the moment of Bill Gates eleventh, and final, keynote address to open the Consumer Electronics Show. The stage was set. It was the Super Bowl of Entertainment and Technology convergence. A time for news. A time for Bill.
CES has been for Bill Gates what Macworld has been for Steve Jobs. In past efforts – the CES keynote has been a night for him to climb on stage and issue a “State of the Union,” a chance to sing Microsoft’s praises, to plug their products, a chance to predict the future. It’s always a night of a little humor, of celebrity appearances and geek idols – a moment in the spotlight with all the glitz, multimedia and professional production a corporate event can withstand. Sunday, all expected points were covered.
Bill took the stage at six thirty looking one part Mr. Rogers in his blue sweater and one part tech icon. Behind him, a version of “Do You Believe in Magic” piped over the PA, metaphorically morphing from old saccharin pop to an edgy, futuristic techno remix with the progression of the song
A few minutes into the event the lights dimmed and a video rolled on a monstrous video panel. In a self deprecating roast seemingly scripted by the talents of an arsenal of striking writers, Bill Gates became the star of his own sitcom, his own version of “The Office.” Matthew McConaughey appeared as his personal trainer. Jay-Z, humored his rapping ambitions and hoped somebody else would tell him his talents were not musical so he wouldn’t have to. Bill’s secretary and colleagues roasted him. Bono, rejected his desire to join the band. John Stewart, sidestepped a request for a co-anchor position. Al Gore asked “Bill who?” It even got into politics. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama brushed off his offers to become a running mate. And then, with the crowd warmed up and amused, with Bill driving off in a Microsoft equipped Ford, Bill got to business.
In the state of Microsoft, he said, the world is good. Vista is getting installed widely. The Xbox is doing great. Zune is catching on and “becoming the alternative to the iPod,” Robbie Bach said. Moreover, we’re entering what Gates called the second digital decade and the company in Redmond is ready to help us embrace it.
According to Bill, three things are on our horizons. First, more high definition. He predicted high definition experiences will become ubiquitous. From improving display technologies, from projections, to embedded screens, we’ll start to see three dimensional environments and video content all around us. We will be surrounded with connected images.
Next, if you believe Bill’s crystal ball, we’ll see a world where our electronic devices are all “Service Connected.” It’s a place where the internet will become a repository for personal and corporate information, where a cell phone, or a device, will be able not only to update itself or download information of our choosing, but where (with appropriate authentication) we’ll be able to download our personal files with great ease and convenience. It’s a place with shared and distributed storage, with vast networks that can be personally accessed. One example of this application: buying a new cell phone. When you buy the phone, after you prove your identity to it (authentication), it will automatically download your address book and other relevant files from a secure internet storage locker. No manual entry, or updates necessary. The process of configuring that phone, of transferring from the old to the new will be seamless. That’s the vision at least. The reality may not be so efficient. (Especially not if security of those storage lockers is on par with past operating systems). But time will tell.
Lastly, in Bill’s future, the interface with which we manage and control these devices is going to change. We won’t be tethered to computer keyboards and mice, there won’t be blackberry thumb and carpal tunnel. Not all the time, as least. Instead, we’ll start to see user interfaces designed to work more naturally. We’ll be able to touch screens (like on the iPhone and tablet PC’s), we’ll be able to talk to the computer (or related devices) and it will recognize voice commands. Maybe they’ll even recognize expressions and gestures. Our way of interacting with machines will change. And with it, our retail experiences, our entertainment experiences, our working methods…everything.
“We’re at the very beginning of the transformation that software will enable,” he said.
These three things elements are where they’ll lead us. At least that’s what Bill Gates predicts. Every year he offers these visions of the future. The tea leaves are not always accurate. But sometimes they’re spot on.
This year, Bill’s last chance to predict the next new thing (he’ll step down from daily operational responsibilities this summer), he went for evolution over revolution. He chose the relatively safe route. Screen designs ARE changing. Sony’s previously seen breakthroughs with flexible ultra-thin displays. Organic LED (OLED) technologies are reshaping what’s possible. Devices ARE becoming more connected. We’ve got widespread WiFi, UMA and improving high speed cell networks already. Then there’s Interfaces which are definitely changing too. The iPhone is one existing example. Microsoft’s Tell Me software tools and “Surface” hardware platform are others.
This year, Bill Gates’ predictions follow a path were already on. More news from the CES over the next few days should start to reveal just how far along that road different technology and entertainment companies already are. 2008 has just begun and there’s a whole year of new developments in media entertainment, and technology to come.
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•Sony’s Amazing Bending TV Screen
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