Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has flopped his final keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, presenting a bizarre display that was hosted by US entertainment personality Ryan Seacrest and included a "tweet choir", but virtually no new significant announcements.
Several demos failed, and attendees were dismayed that a rumoured new Xbox 720 console wasn't revealed. One attendee remarked at the end "thank god it was the last year" - reflecting the mood in the audience and of the live bloggers covering the speech.
This year was the final CES keynote for Microsoft, which has monopolised the slot for the past 15 years. In recent years, Ballmer has failed to come up with big new announcements to kick off the show and Microsoft acknowledged this when it said it was pulling out of the show because the January timing didn't fit in with its roadmap.
The keynote was "hosted" by entertainment personality Ryan Seacrest. It was conducted in an interview format, a departure from previous years, and attendees noted the exchange was awkward and felt scripted, while Seacrest had little knowledge about the technologies being discussed.
Another oddity during the keynote was the "tweet choir", which read out tweets from attendees of the keynote in song format. Tech blog Gizmodo, in its live coverage, said "Don't go out like this Microsoft. This is your last keynote".
Microsoft showcased its "metro" interface that is currently found on Windows Phone 7 but will soon be found across Windows-based PCs, laptops and tablets when Windows 8 is launched later this year.
The interface is centred around live "tiles" or hubs rather than grids of icons and the tiles update with new content such as social networking posts and emails.
"We have a chance in the next year to really raise our game, our product line, to the next level across phones, PCs, tablets, TV, the Xbox - and really the heart and soul of that will be our featured attraction tonight, our new metro interface," said Ballmer.
Ballmer said he was "excited and upbeat" about Windows Phone 7 despite dismal sales worldwide and a relative lack of support from telcos and handset makers, which are throwing their weight behind Google's Android.
"I think we've got a really unique and beneficial experience ... the other phones all make the sea of icons, the sea of applications ... [but] what we've really done with Windows Phone is I think have a better way by putting your people, the people important to you ... we put them right out there in front of you, and really Windows Phone is the first phone that I think put people first," said Ballmer, referring to Windows Phone 7's "people" hub.
Windows Phone 7's solid reviews haven't translated into strong sales so Microsoft used a significant portion of its keynote to showcase the platform and highlight areas where it differs from Android and iPhone. One key differentiator is the seamless integration of social networks and web chat services like Facebook into the operating system.
But one demo, showcasing WP7's voice-to-text SMS, failed, with the software only picking up the word "sounds" in the phrase "sounds great". Another demo then failed and the Microsoft staffer had to reach for a different phone.
Three new Windows Phone 7 handsets were announced at CES, the Nokia Lumia 900 and 710 and the HTC Titan II, but it is unclear whether they will make it to Australia.
Microsoft showcased Windows 8, due for release in the second half of this year, on an unreleased Samsung tablet. It also showcased a range of slim Ultrabook laptops based on the platform that were announced earlier today.
Like Windows Phone 7, Windows 8 uses the "metro" live tile interface. But much of the demo material had been seen before.
"This is more than the next version of Windows. It's a new way of thinking about your PC," said Microsoft's chief marketing officer for Windows, Tami Reller.
"It's design to work with touch or a mouse and keyboard. No matter how large or small your screen is, you have what you need ... I can get to the important things I need with just a swipe of a finger."
For the first time Microsoft revealed the Windows Store, which provides apps across all Windows devices. The store will open late February and be available worldwide.
Ballmer said there were over 66 million Xbox users around the world and of those 40 million had subscribed to Xbox Live. Microsoft's Kinect motion-sensitive accessory, which makes your body and voice the controller, has sold over 18 million units.
Microsoft showcased the new Xbox user interface, which was launched at the end of last year, as well as Bing integration which allows users to conduct voice searches from their Xbox. Largely, Microsoft revealed features of Xbox that everyone had seen before.
At one point, a Microsoft staffer showed a live football game running through the Xbox and bored members of the audience quipped that he should just leave the game on.
In one of the only pieces of news during the keynote, Microsoft announced that Kinect would be coming to Windows PCs on February 1. Ballmer highlighted some of the third-party Kinect hacks enabling everything from health care to quirky entertainment applications.
"It's going to be amazing ... the ability of the computer to see you, to hear you, to recognise you - it's sparked a revolution," said Ballmer.
* Asher Moses travelled to Las Vegas as a guest of Samsung.
- Sydney Morning Herald