Microsoft's last speech (for now?) at the Gamasutra-attended CES in Las Vegas showcased the Metro interface, Windows Store for apps, and Kinect for uses beyond gaming, powered by an ebullient Steve Ballmer.
And in introducing Microsoft's keynote at the gigantic consumer electronics show, CEA head Gary Shapiro pointedly courted the Xbox creator to hang around for the future, taking care to say that "we've announced together" that Microsoft is "taking a break" from a CES keynote in 2013.
Welcoming Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Shapiro said pointedly that "I would be shocked" if Microsoft did not return to the CES stage in the next few years- something that Ballmer didn't particularly acknowledge in a brief handover section, following the announcement last week that this keynote will be Microsoft's last for now.
American Idol host Ryan Seacrest was talk show-style host for the Microsoft keynote, which started by Ballmer pitching the Metro user interface - used in Windows Phone, Xbox 360, and soon Windows 8, as the "heart and soul" of the presentation this evening.
A clear lead-off for the evening was Windows Phone, with over 50,000 applications in the Windows Phone Marketplace, and more than 300 a day being added. Ballmer particularly highlighted the Nokia Lumia 900 and HTC Titan II, the lead Windows Phone devices that are just arriving on the market in North America, as vanguards for the system.
Another big focus was Windows 8, which is "designed to work with touch... but also with a mouse and keyboard", according to Windows CMO Tami Reller. This presents Windows 8 clearly as an OS that bridges both laptops and tablets, thanks to the tile-based Metro user interface.
Although Windows 8 'Metro-style' tablets are still a little further away, since the OS has not yet shipped, Reller showcased several prototype tablets, including a Samsung one. And the company further highlighted Windows Store, a main store for "connecting people to as many great apps as possible", including games, across all PCs and laptops running Windows 8.
The Windows Store will initially open in late February alongside the next Beta of Windows 8, and will include many free apps to start with. It'll be global, with free and paid apps available in 200 countries around the world. As an example, Zeptolab's Cut The Rope was demo-ed as an app in the new Windows Store, and the search and organization functions were also extensively demonstrated.
Rolling into Xbox, Ballmer became almost insanely animated, barking: "We invest for the longterm... we're the world sales leader for the last year in consoles. We have 66 million Xbox users and over 40 million Xbox Live subscribers."
The Microsoft CEO played up the Xbox as an entertainment hub, not just a games machine, noting that Xbox was "still [about] games.. but [it's] morphing, changing." And he added - "Kinect is certainly a big part of this", since the company has shipped over 18 million Kinect sensors to date.
The company's Craig Davidson then entered the stage on behalf of Xbox, playing up the "magic of voice with Kinect" and layering in Bing search, for what he called "actionable discovery." Particularly showcased was Comcast and Xfinity's TV on Xbox 360, as well as a new News Corporation app partnership including Fox, Fox News, IGN, and Wall Street Journal TV, coming in 2012.
Next demonstrated was Kinect Sesame Street TV, which included interactive TV elements (throwing coconuts in a box for Grover!), and 'you're in the picture' style play which uses Kinect to place kids into a Sesame Street world. The company did mention games at times, but the presentation was focused much more around Xbox and Kinect for entertainment beyond purely gaming.
And to finish up, a video showcased non-gaming uses for Kinect, which is coming to Windows on February 1st, with more than 200 companies working on applications - including Toyota, Mattel, American Express, and more.
Overall, Ballmer barked out that 2012 was all about 'Metro! Metro! Metro!' and 'Windows! Windows! Windows!' for the tech giant, as it tries to catch up in areas such as tablets and cellphones where its previous OS has slipped behind the curve -- while bringing a social experience more naturally to desktops through Windows 8's use of dynamic UI elements.