CES: Gates introduces the ‘next digital decade’

RCR Wireless News
LAS VEGAS—Bill Gates may not be slowing down on the professional and charitable projects that he holds near and dear, but it’s clear he’s having fun in his final months as chairman of Microsoft Corp. Gates took plenty of light-hearted jabs at himself yesterday during his eleventh and final keynote address here at the Consumer Electronics Show.

He took the CES audience along for a humorous ride, as he candidly wondered what he might do with his time after retiring from the software giant that he founded more than 30 years ago. A slick video showed him asking for jobs with everyone from Barack Obama to former Vice President Al Gore. He even embarrassed himself as he lifted weights with Matthew McConaughey and took a stab at rap, Bill Gates-style, in a recording studio with Jay Z.

Gates will step down as chairman of the Redman, Wash.-based company in July to shift his focus to charitable work and projects involving software in health care and education.

He called this year’s CES “the fulfillment of so many dreams and promises from years ago.” With cellphones now in the hands of more than 40% of the world’s population, he said Microsoft is keenly aware of the immense opportunity presented by mobile devices, and the challenges that lie therein.

More than 10 million Windows Mobile-equipped phones were sold last year and the company expects that number to double in 2008. However, Gates admitted that “input has been a limiting factor” with mobile phones and believes that new user interfaces will change that in the years to come.

Interestingly, Gates’ discussion of new user interfaces coincided with a blogger post claiming to outline the features of Microsoft’s forthcoming Widows Mobile 7. According to the post, the UI will feature many of the same advances as Apple Inc.’s iPhone.

“Phones are going to be a big platform,” said Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft’s entertainment and devices division, who joined Gates on stage during his keynote. Bach added that mobile advertising is expected to be an billion industry by 2011.

Calling this the “next digital decade,” Gates said “all media and entertainment will be software driven” in the future. He anticipates an expanded, high-definition experience in all devices, which will rely on multi-modal interfaces that will capitalize on people’s intuition. Touchscreens and speech recognition will become universal, he said, adding that the software industry will build such capabilities into common, everyday appliances.

To demonstrate, Bach showed off a gadget out of the Microsoft lab that photographically recognized people and places and can automatically pull up context-relevant information and functions. For example, a visual of a contact in an address book would allow a user to make a call with one touch, while an image of a movie theatre would allow a user to purchase tickets to a film later that day.

Gates and Bach closed the keynote with a Guitar Hero 3 challenge and a friendly $20 bet on the line. After Bach brought out a young, competitive champion who plays the video game, Gates one-upped him and brought guitar legend Slash on stage to belt out the same tune on a real guitar. Needless to say, Gates got the $20.

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