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Latest news from the Microsoft Keynote

There were a few crazy rumours about what Microsoft were going to talk about in their CES keynote, so it was refreshing to see that they decided to focus on key improvements to their recent successes – Windows, Windows Phone 7 and, of course, Xbox 360 Kinect.

The future of Kinect

It’s been one of the real success stories of 2010, and in 2011 it’s going become even more central to the Xbox experience. The first thing the Microsoft team showed off the Zune media library using gesture and voice control through Kinect to easily and quickly navigate movies. They then added to this with new Netflix, Hulu Plus and ESPN. These really showed off how well the gesture and voice control can work as part of a home entertainment system. It’ll be interesting to see if equivalent video services are made available to us in the UK.

The most exciting new concept though was “Avatar Kinect”. The Kinect software has been refined to understand facial expressions, so now you can control your avatar fully in real time. We saw a great demo of this tech being used to let friends connect online and chat in a virtual environment. One particularly fun use was in the ESPN interface to let friends engage in a bit of banter while watching games together – from anywhere in the world!

Windows Phone 7, growing all the time

With Windows Phone 7, Microsoft look like having a real chance of competing with iPhone and Android. The phones haven’t been on the Market for all that long and already it’s proving a popular alternative, with over 5500 apps already available. Unique features such as live home screen tiles, Bing voice search and the quick photo button are finding a real audience.

Microsoft announced an imminent software update to add features such as copy and paste, and to make the system even faster. They also showcased some of the great new games coming to Windows Phone 7 in the near future.

Microsoft are really trying to have something for everyone here, popular casual iPhone titles like Fruit Ninja are making the jump, but there is also plenty for the traditional Xbox fan, such as Assassin’s Creed and Fable. With Xbox live integration by default, you can play Fable coin golf, and your results will effect your Fable campaign on the console.

Best of the rest

The Microsoft Surface multi-touch table has been around for a few years now, mostly used in bars and shops. Now it’s been upgraded to be lighter, thinner and cheaper – it can even be wall-mounted. One great new feature is the ability to see items you place on the surface. We saw a great demo from Bank of Canada showing the system recognising a flyer placed on it, and using it to show particular offers to the customer. Very cool.

Lastly, to Windows. It shows how successful products like Kinect have been for Windows to count as “the rest”, but there’s not much news here. We had a demo of some of the many new laptops and tablets using Windows 7 this year, and a reminder of how flexible the system can be. I’ll look forward to taking a closer look at some of these new machine on the show floor.