With The New York Times triggering a rumor that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer would announce a new Microsoft tablet computer that would pre-empt Apple's eagerly-anticipated tablet announcement on January 27, there was a lot of buzz swirling around Ballmer's opening keynote at CES 2010 in Las Vegas.
It was standing room only in the Las Vegas Hilton Center for the event and Ballmer introduced not just one machine but three different devices in what he called a new "Slate PC" form factor.
Ballmer said."We're talking about something that's almost as portable as a phone and as powerful as a PC running Windows 7. This emerging category of PCs really should take advantage of the touch and mobility and capabilities of Windows 7, and are perfect for reading, for surfing the Web, and for taking entertainment on the go. Our OEM partners are doing some great work with Slate PCs that will be rolling into the marketplace this year."
The three examples that Ballmer showed off were:
- Small Hewlett-Packard device about the size of the Kindle and running Kindle PC software
- Archos mid-sized tablet that resembles a UMPC
- Large Pegatron tablet that looked like it was meant for reading full-sized newspaper and magazine folios
However, these slate devices were basically just full Windows 7 PCs in a small form factor with touchscreen functionality and no hardware keyboard. There wasn't anything particularly innovative about them, even though the hardware designs were very attractive.
While the Slate PC demo was in the middle of the presentation and was certainly a featured segment for Ballmer, it was not a knock-out punch type of announcement. It was more of a shiny-new-thing announcement, and it shared a crowded spotlight with other Microsoft talk about Windows PCs, Microsoft Auto, and Xbox 360.
It would have been tough for anything to live up to the hype that developed over the past 24 hours. The New York Times claimed that Microsoft was preparing to announce a product in partnership with Hewlett-Packard that would "be touted as a multimedia whiz with e-reader and multi-touch functions." The Wall Street Journal's Kara Swisher threw cold water on that idea, saying Microsoft would simply be showing off its existing Windows 7 tablet functionality on new HP tablet hardware. The back-and-forth between the two rival publications helped created an atmosphere of expectation for the Ballmer keynote.
Adding to the anticipation, the event was delayed by 25 minutes for "power problems." When Ballmer did finally make it out to the stage he said a couple things in his introduction that helped fuel the anticipation. He said, "We want to focus on the ever-evolving PC tonight" and also remarked that he wanted to talk about natural user interface (NUI) and the progress Microsoft is making in that area. While the NUI stuff refers partly to Project Natal (Microsoft's new gaming interface), attendees couldn't help but wonder if this also referred to the new tablet, especially since the Apple slate is rumored to have an innovative new UI.
You can watch Ballmer's full three-minute discussion of the Slate PC in the video clip below: