Voice control, Windows upgrade get raves at gadget show
If there’s one thing that’s clear at this year’s annual Consumer Electronics Show – the world’s biggest annual cavalcade of new technologies – it’s just how influential a pair of slightly older technologies have become.
The technologies in question: Microsoft’s Kinect and Apple’s Siri.
Over the course of the CES press day on Monday, electronics manufacturers lined up to announce new devices that borrow interface features that those two products have popularized over the course of the last year.
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South Korea’s LG kicked things off by unveiling a new television set with a voice- and gesture-activated remote control. Chip maker Intel followed up by showing off computers that can be controlled via their touch screens; Intel also announced a partnership with Massachusetts-based Nuance Communications. The two companies are working on bringing voice-controlled computers to market in 2012.
Samsung, also based in South Korea, launched a contest for developers at its press conference, opening the door for third parties to create gesture, voice and facial recognition applications for its new internet-connected TVs. The company said all of its new high-end TVs will have integrated cameras, which will eventually serve as the input for those various technologies.
UK-based Novauris Technologies also announced a partnership with Panasonic to bring voice-recognition to the Japanese company’s televisions. Sony, meanwhile, showed off a remote control for a Blu Ray player that incorporates voice and gesture control.
As industry insiders predicted before the event began, CES is clearly establishing 2012 as the year of the interface.
The return of Microsoft
The evolution of interfaces was also present in the other big press day story – Microsoft’s apparent return to hipness. Finnish cellphone maker Nokia showed off its new Lumia line of smartphones, which run Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 software, to rave reviews.
The two companies, which announced a partnership earlier in 2011 in an effort to revive their flagging mobile fortunes, received kudos for creating phones that are as slick as Android and Apple devices, but different.
The Lumia 710 will be available in Canada through Rogers, while Telus will carry the Lumia 800, although no launch date has yet been announced.
Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer used his keynote speech Monday evening – his last, for now – to tout the "Metro" interface behind Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system. The software is designed to work with touchscreens as well as a mouse and keyboard and is the "heart and soul" of everything the company is doing, Ballmer said, since it will run on computers, phones and tablets.
Metro has won praise as a slick interface that scrolls up and down, with "tiles" taking the place of the icons that have become standard on many smartphones and tablets. The tiles also feature live applications, so users can have things like Facebook and Twitter updates pop up on their home screens without actually having to open them.
The Windows 8 beta, or trial period, will begin in February, with the Windows Store – similar to Apple’s app store – opening later in the month.
Ballmer also played up Kinect, the add-on for the Xbox 360 video game console that Microsoft launched in late 2010. More than 200 companies, including Toyota, Mattel and American Express, are working on applications for Kinect, which will also work with Windows as of Feb. 1.
Ironically, Microsoft announced over the holidays that it was pulling out of CES after this year, nominally because its product launch schedule doesn’t coincide with the show. Gary Shapiro, the chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association – which organizes CES – said he would be "shocked" if the company doesn't eventually return to the show, thereby leaving the door open for Microsoft.