SiliconFilter

Microsoft’s Last CES Keynote: Old Demos and Very Little News

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Microsoft's keynote at CES this evening felt like a cruel joke. Hosted by Ryan Seacrest and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, the keynote was anticipated widely, especially because it was Microsoft's last appearance on the keynote stage for the next few years. Judging by today's performance, they won't be missed. Microsoft demoed Windows Phone, Windows 8 and Xbox on stage. Virtually nothing shown on stage was new. For close to one hour and fifteen minutes, Microsoft basically only showed us things that it had already announced in 2011.

In some way, the keynote felt like a huge middle finger to CES. It's almost as if Microsoft, which had already said that CES didn't quite fit into its rhythm of announcement anymore, wanted to drive this point home by announcing close to nothing. It's hard to imagine that anybody in the audience wasn't already familiar with Windows Phone and the Windows 8 interface, after all.

The Only Real Piece of News: Kinect for PC is Coming Feb. 1st

Only after the first hour was over did Microsoft give us something new: a launch date for Kinect for PC: February 1st. Of course, we already knew it was coming to the PC – we just didn't know the date.

All of the PCs and phones shown in the demos were already announced, the Windows Phone and Windows 8 demos were slick – but probably because the presenters had a chance to hone their skills over the last few months of giving virtually the same presentation over and over again.

And Here's Xbox – And a Tiny Little Bit of News

At one point during the Xbox demo, which included two other minor snippets of news – a partnership with News Corp. and a Sesame Street app – Microsoft decided that it was about time to show that you can play music videos on the Xbox… and to make it clear that this was really a music video, we got to see all of it (or at least the audience in the keynote hall did – the livestream cut out at that point because of copyright concerns). 

Maybe the oddest moment of the show, though, was an appearance of the "Tweet Choir." Writing this a good hour after their appearance, I'm still not sure what they were singing about…

Even Ryan Seacrest seemed to be getting impatient towards the end of the show: "Steve, you know something we don't know yet. What's coming next?" Ballmer's answer: "Windows 8." You can't make this stuff up…



7:49 pm


Microsoft Brings Its SkyDrive Cloud Storage Service to the iPhone

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For quite a while now, SkyDrive, Microsoft's cloud storage service, has sat quietly at the center of the company's Windows Live online services and Windows Phone. Now, however, the company is quickly launching new features for the services. Earlier this week, SkyDrive received a number of major updates, including sharing features for Office documents, an HTML5 uploader and better file management. Today, the SkyDrive team is adding a Windows Phone app and an iPhone client to its feature line-up.

This move clearly shows that Microsoft is not willing to leave the consumer-focused online storage market to startups like Dropbox or Box.net (or Google, for that matter).

SkyDrive for Windows Phone

Skydrive windows phone

SkyDrive, of course, is already deeply integrated into Windows Phone, but this new app provides users with, as Microsoft puts it, "the full SkyDrive experience from Windows Phone, including tasks like browsing their entire SkyDrive, sharing links to folders or files, deleting files, and creating folders." The new app is available worldwide and should be in the Windows Phone now.

SkyDrive for iOS

As for iOS users, Microsoft notes that "not everyone who relies on SkyDrive for sharing photos or accessing Office documents uses Windows Phone… yet." I have to give Microsoft some props for making more and more of its products available on iOS (though Android users are still out of luck). With OneNote and Bing, for example, the company made its first (tepid) steps onto iOS quite a while ago, but the real push towards launching apps for Apple's mobile operating system seems to have started now.

SkyDrive for the iPhone is now available in Apple's app store and allows SkyDrive users to "access all of their files in SkyDrive, create folders, delete files, and share links to folders and files directly using the Mail app."

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6:45 pm


iPhone and Windows Phone Are Easier to Navigate for Novice Users Than Android and BlackBerry

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Our friends over at Technologizer posted this interesting video of a usability study featuring the iPhone 4, a Samsung Focus running Windows Phone 7, a BlackBerry Storm and an HTC Thunderbolt running Android. This study, which was organized by University of Pittsburgh professor Dennis Galletta while teaching a summer course at Harvard, examined how novice users would perform a number of basic phone features like calling, adding contacts and sending a text message.

Sadly, we don’t know much about the methodology used here, but according to Galletta, all the users in the video had never used these platforms before (though if hard-core iPhone users suddenly had to switch to the Windows Phone 7 interface, for example, chances are that they would be rather confused, too, simply because the interface metaphor there is very different).

Still, the video is pretty instructive and a good reminder for how difficult it sometimes is for regular people user to perform basic functions on their phones (though the video would be even better without the background music…).



11:01 pm


The Microsoft Tanker Has Turned and You Ignore it at Your Own Peril

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Whenever I hear people discussing Microsoft, it usually doesn’t take long before somebody mentions that the Redmond-based giant is like a huge oil tanker. It takes a while to turn such a huge company around and get it back on track. When Microsoft stumbled after the dotcom boom and couldn’t even produce a viable browser to compete with the open-source offerings of Mozilla, quite a few pundits assumed that the age of Microsoft was about to come to an end (the less said about the disaster that was Windows Vista, the better).

Microsoft Today

Flash forward to late 2010. Windows 7 is a huge success. Internet Explorer 9 has the potential to be one of the best browsers on the market. Windows Phone 7 is about to be released (and after seeing it in action during a short trip to Redmond earlier this week, I’m convinced that it will be a huge hit). Bing is bringing much-needed competition to the search engine market. Windows Live is becoming a great little social media aggregator for its users and a central hub for all of Microsoft online consumer tools. Hotmail – as much as it is ignored by the tech press – is still one of the most popular email services on the planet and continues to quietly innovate. The Windows Live Essentials desktop tools can easily hold their own in comparison with Apple’s tools. The Office Web apps easily beat the offerings of Microsoft’s competitors in both design and functionality.

What’s interesting is that most of these apps and services are only one or two iterations removed from really horrible products like Windows Mobile 6.5, Internet Explorer 7, Live Search.

Turning the Tanker Around

Spending some time earlier this week on the Microsoft campus, I couldn’t help but think that this is a very different Microsoft from the company we all loved to hate not too long ago. Instead of trying to build its own Facebook clone, for example, Microsoft is using Windows Live to aggregate other social networks. Just ten years ago, Microsoft would have never done that. Windows Phone 7 isn’t just a copy of the Android and iOS operating system and neither is it some weird adaptation of a desktop OS. Instead, Microsoft developed a vibrant new user interface based on its experience with the Zune (a good device, no matter how it failed in the marketplace) and the XBox.

Of course, there are still areas where Microsoft struggles (and the Kin was quite a disaster), but it’s hard not to think that the tanker has now turned and is sailing ahead at full steam.



10:34 pm