Ballmer unveils HP’s tablet computer

Microsoft CEO opens tech show

Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer displayed a tablet-style computer yesterday that will be available later this year. Microsoft chief Steve Ballmer displayed a tablet-style computer yesterday that will be available later this year. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)
By Jessica Mintz
Associated Press / January 7, 2010

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Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer demonstrated a new touch-screen, tablet-style computer from Hewlett-Packard Co. last night, the first of several such devices expected to be unveiled this month.

The tablet - also known as a slate, a one-piece portable computer without a physical keyboard - was one of several new PCs Ballmer showed off as he delivered Microsoft Corp.’s customary keynote on the eve of the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

During the talk, which was shown live over the Web, Ballmer said the HP tablet will be available later this year. He also gave a glimpse of two similar devices from Archos and Pegatron Corp.

Tablet-style computers that run Windows have been available for a decade, but HP’s new machine is bound to draw extra attention thanks to expectations that Apple Inc. will launch a similar device later this month.

Apple, notoriously secretive about upcoming products, has not commented on the matter. But given the iPhone’s success, which propelled competitors to come out with copycat touch-screen phones and centralized “app’’ stores to sell add-on software, all eyes are on Apple to define what a slate or tablet-style computer should look like and how it will be used.

Microsoft was also set to announce that Natal, new technology that lets video game players control the action by moving their whole bodies instead of using a joystick, will go on sale for the Xbox console in time for this year’s holiday shopping season.

Robbie Bach, the president of Microsoft’s entertainment and devices division, said devices built for touch, gestures, and other so-called natural user interfaces will become much more mainstream in the next few years. While Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates has for years said the same thing, Bach says computer science and hardware technology are now sophisticated enough to support Gates’s and other visionaries’ big ideas.

Bach is expected to highlight some of the big-name Xbox 360 video games that will launch in 2010, including the next installment of the popular Halo franchise. More than 39 million people now own Xbox 360 consoles.

Microsoft also disclosed a new search distribution deal with HP that will make the company’s Bing search site and content portal the default search engine and Web home page on new HP computers sold in 42 countries.

The software maker has signed similar deals in the past, including one with HP in 2008 that made Live Search, Bing’s predecessor technology, the default on computers sold in the United States and Canada. People who buy such computers can still change their preferred search engine to something else.

Ballmer also revealed a new version of Mediaroom, its technology that delivers TV over the Internet on such services as AT&T Inc.’s U-verse system. The newest version of Mediaroom will let subscribers watch live and recorded TV and video-on-demand on Windows computers and phones and through Xbox 360 consoles, in addition to a set-top box. It will work over regular broadband, not just special fiber connections.

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