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CES: Microsoft's Steve Ballmer urges people to ditch the keyboard [Corrected and Updated]

January 6, 2010 |  6:30 pm
Steve Ballmer
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at CeBit in Hanover, Germany, in 2008. Credit: Kay Nietfeld / European Pressphoto Agency

Take your hands off that keyboard!

That, in short, was one of several points made by Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer during a keynote to kick off the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Ballmer, who speaks in exclamation points with his characteristically booming voice, showcased a slew of gadgets and devices that don't require keyboards. Among them: the Slate tablet from Hewlett-Packard featuring a multi-touch screen from N-Trig, which also provided the touch technology for computers from Dell, Lenovo and Toshiba.

The HP device, slated for release later this year, ran Amazon.com's Kindle digital book reader software during the demo. Ballmer also summoned a video on the Slate with a few taps of his finger.

Ballmer, along with Robbie Bach, president of Microsoft's entertainment and devices division, also announced that the company would start selling Natal, a voice and gesture recognition controller for its Xbox 360 game console, sometime in the fourth quarter of this year, in time for the holiday shopping season. Microsoft demonstrated Natal last year at the E3 game conference but did not specify when it would release it.

Altogether, the devices show Microsoft's vision for the future of computing, one that increasingly will rely on a host of natural user interfaces to let people abandon the keyboard in order to speak, point, touch and, eventually, think their commands.

Bach called it the ability to "use technology in a way that's natural to you."

As more consumers turn to smart phones, TVs and even cars to hop on the Internet, the computer has become a less crucial component of how people browse the Web, check e-mail or view online videos. As a result, Microsoft has been pursuing a "Three Screen" strategy to provide the operating system software for mobile devices and large-screen TVs, as well as PCs, where it dominates.

The trouble is, few people want to watch TV with a keyboard on their laps, and mobile devices are too small for a standard keyboard. Hence the need for other methods to convey commands. Anyone out there care to speak HTML?

-- Alex Pham in Las Vegas

Follow my random thoughts on games, gear and technology on Twitter @AlexPham.

[Corrected, 7:30 pm: The blog was written from a prepared speech and was posted prior to Ballmer's appearance on stage. It has also been updated to include additional details from the keynote.]

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