Arik Hesseldahl

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Steve Ballmer’s CES 2011 Keynote: Kinecting to Your Inner Avatar

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s annual keynote address at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is about to start. There is likely to be lots of news on Windows, tablets and smartphones, so I liveblogged the action as it happened.

Here’s a synopsis of Ballmer’s remarks:

2010 was a very exciting year for our customer. We launched Windows Phone 7, Kinect, Internet Explorer 9 and Windows Office online. We want to say thanks to one billion customers around the world for their support and feedback.

A decade ago, we took a bold step forward in changing entertainment with gaming. The Xbox. But entertainment is much more than gaming. Xbox Live, Xbox 360 and Kinect have made for the biggest year in Xbox history.

Ballmer introduced Ron Forbes for a demo. He’s starting out with Kinect.

Netflix is coming to Xbox Live, with support for Kinect. And Hulu Plus will get the same treatment.

And a note for college football fans–ESPN will be carrying the Oregon vs. Auburn game on Xbox Live.

Ballmer was back…or rather a Kinect avatar of Ballmer, touting a new social feature called, straightforwardly, Avatar Kinect. He introduced a video of what looks like a virtual talk show and a virtual tailgating session, populated by players’ characters.

Now the real Ballmer returned. Maybe it’s just me, but that avatar was pretty darn bald. Avatar Kinect will be made available free to all Xbox Gold customers.

More Xbox numbers: 30 million Xbox Live members, with a new one coming aboard every two seconds; Xbox has been the No. 1 selling console in the U.S. for the past six months; and eight million Kinect sensors sold, beating the forecast of five million.

Now onto phones, via a gaming segue. People are taking advantage of Xbox live on Windows Phone 7, playing everything from casual games to heavy hitters. Ballmer announced that Fable is coming to Windows Phone 7 in the form of an exclusive, Fable Coin Golf.

More games coming too: Rise of Glory, Pac Man, Halo Waypoint, classic Centipede, Assassin’s Creed, Pocket God, Butterfly and Need For Speed Undercover among them.

Onto Windows Phone 7 and how the redesign of the user interface is supposed to help you get things done easily. Nine phones launched with 60 operators in 30 countries.

There are now 5,500 applications available for Windows Phone customers. That’s 100 new apps every 24 hours. More than half of customers download a new app every day.

More Ballmer bragging: Job No. 1 is showing this new phone to people. What we find is that once people see the phone, they fall in love with it. Nine out of every 10 Windows phone customers at AT&T said they would recommend the phone to others. We’re going to continue to invest in it aggressively.

And updates are coming–addition of copy and paste, and performance improvements when switching between applications.

Liz Sloan from Windows Phone team demoed the features that make Windows Phone 7 handy for busy people–such as a dedicated camera button, useful information right on the home screen, voice search, a dedicated Bing search button, “hubs” of related apps and, of course, that Xbox Live connection.

Back to Ballmer.

One more product to talk about: The Windows PC.

We talked last year about how excited we were about the reactions people had to Windows 7. Windows 7 PCs are the fastest selling in history. Internet Explorer 9 represents a leap forward in what developers can do with HTML 5 and hardware accelerated graphics. Windows Live shipped to 500 million people worldwide, and Windows Live Messenger is the No. 2 application on Facebook.

Customers have come to expect the full power of a PC across a wide range of form factors.

Mike Angiulo demoed a preview of what is coming next.

First, he demoed an animation showing off the power of Intel’s Sandy Bridge chips, announced today. Another demo showing a notebook with an AMD Fusion processor, which, like Intel’s Sandy Bridge, combines a CPU and graphics chip into a single component.

More hardware: The Acer dual-screen PC with one screen where the keyboard would normally be; a prototype of a fanless Samsung sliding PC; and a tablet PC from Asus, which works with a wireless keyboard or, using Windows Touch, a pen.

The big-butted table was back! A new version of the old Surface table, featuring the biggest piece of Gorilla Glass that’s ever been bonded to a screen. The first version used cameras built into the surface. This one uses infrared sensors. Each pixel is acting as a camera. The PC can actually see the paper he just set down on the table.

With a new lower price, Ballmer insisted that you’re going to see more Surface PCs around.

Dream on!

Finally Ballmer talked about how the next version of Windows will work not only with Intel chips, but also ARM chips and SOC or system-on-a-chip systems. Partners include Nvidia. Qualcomm and Texas Instruments working on the ARM chips. Customers expect the full power of a PC on whatever device they’re using.

Another demo on Windows support for new chips–Intel’s Atom SOC chip, Qualcomm’s Snapdragon ARM system and other ARM chip from Texas Instruments and Nvidia.

Back to Ballmer, who promised: Whatever device you use now or in the future, he promised Windows will be there.

And done.