CES 2011: Microsoft Chief Praises Windows Phone 7 in Opening Keynote

LAS VEGAS-- Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer spent much of his opening keynote address Wednesday night at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show either rehashing the company's previously announced plan to include support for ARM processors in the next iteration of Windows or regurgitating anecdotal praise for its line of Windows Phone 7 mobile devices.

But in what's been dubbed the "year of the tablet PC," Ballmer barely made mention of the devices even though the devices represented the entire substance and sizzle of last year's address.

To be fair, Ballmer did deliver some new details on developments for Xbox Live and Kinect fans, introducing something called Avatar Kinect, a feature that creates an eerie cartoonish avatar that accurately reproduces facial expressions and provides a number of interesting environments for real-time social interactions.

And Xbox customers who also have Kinect this spring will be able to wave their hands or use voice commands to browse their own stash of music, TV shows and movies or access content from NetFlix and Hulu.

Other than that and a few forthcoming improvements for Windows Phone 7 -- spring updates will add copy-and-paste functionality and improved performance when switching between or loading applications -- there wasn't a whole lot new.

There were vague references to software and hardware innovations for devices spanning the range of form factor sizes, but there were no specifics on either new smartphones or tablet -- slates if you prefer -- PCs.

There was a lot of talk by Ballmer about how well Windows Phone 7 devices have been received in the scant two-plus months they've been available in the U.S.

"Job No. 1 is showing this phone to people," Ballmer told attendees. "And Windows Phone customers are doing just that. Nine out of 10 customers at AT&T say they would recommend the phone to others."

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) says it now has more than 5,500 mobile apps available on the platform and that roughly 100 new apps pop up for Windows Phone 7 owners every day. Ballmer also said that more than 20,000 mobile app developers are working on the platform, adding that thus far it has released nine new phones on more than 60 wireless networks in 30 countries.

But in a market that's still dominated by Apple's iPhone, Android devices and even Research In Motion's BlackBerry, the anecdotal appreciation by existing Windows Phone 7 users might not hold much sway. It's clear that the tablet PC is now the "it" device and its offerings -- just as its smartphone line -- are lagging behind a bevy of competitors.

Ballmer again reiterated the tremendous success Windows 7 PCs enjoyed in 2010, pointing out that 20 percent of all PCs connected to the Internet are now running his company's latest operating systems software. He also claimed 20 million people are now using Internet Explorer 9 and that Windows Live Messenger ranks as the second-most-popular app on Facebook.

And more than 8 million Kinect units were sold in the first 60 days, well ahead of Microsoft's internal projection of 5 million units.

"The past year (2010) was a very, very exciting year for our customers," Ballmer said. "We saw great growth in our Bing and Azure services. It was a year like no other."

Larry Barrett is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.


Microsoft, CES, Windows Phone 7, mobile devices, Kinect