Microsoft bashes Apple at CES while previewing next-gen Windows

Microsoft Windows president Steven Sinofsky took a shot at Apple while previewing the next generation of Windows during CES in Las Vegas, saying users are being inconvenienced because there is no convergence across the iPhone, iPad, iPod and MacBook.

CES 2011 preview: Gadgets galore

Sinofsky recalled sitting on a plane next to a passenger who used a succession of Apple devices during and after the flight. First the passenger texted and talked on his iPhone before takeoff, then watched a movie on his iPad, listened to music on his iPod, and finally opened up his MacBook upon landing to catch up on everything he missed while in the air.

“That’s not particularly converged,” Sinofsky said during an invitation-only press conference Wednesday afternoon, hours before Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was scheduled to give his Consumer Electronics Show keynote. “In fact, it was clear some of the same scenarios were happening across devices.”

Since not everyone wants to carry three or four devices when they travel, Sinofsky said Microsoft plans to bridge the gap across PCs and mobile devices in the next generation of Windows, which could come out in 2012. However, when Network World asked Sinofsky how future Microsoft products will let users consolidate to just one or two devices, his answer was vague at best. Microsoft demonstrated next-generation tablets and PCs, but no phones on Wednesday.

Additionally, Microsoft said it plans to keep Windows Phone 7 as a separate OS for smartphones, while Windows will power all other devices. With two separate operating systems, it’s not totally clear where Microsoft’s convergence across phones and PCs will come from.

“I just know that there’s a better future than the guy next to me on the plane,” Sinofsky said. “Today is really a technology preview and I don’t want to start speculating about devices. Today is when we start to kick off the dialogue with partners who make the actual devices. We’ll start talking about what kind of devices we can make once we enable this new class of hardware to work. I’m sure there’s a different path where somebody can carry less hardware with them than that.”

Microsoft did make some news today, however, saying that “the next version of its Windows PC operating system will run on ARM processors, part of an effort to adapt Windows to the fast-growing market for tablet computers, where Apple and Google have gained traction,” IDG News Service reporter James Niccolai notes. “It's a big move for Microsoft, whose desktop OS has traditionally run only on x86-type processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices. Chips based on ARM designs use much less power and are dominant in smartphones like the BlackBerry and iPhone and in tablets like the Apple iPad.”

Windows 7 has been on the retail market for a little more than 14 months. With Sinofsky saying there are typically 24 to 36 months between releases, the next version of Windows should come out in 2012 or even by the end of 2011.

The new ARM-based systems will be part of a trend toward “System on a Chip” architectures which merge CPU, graphics processing units, memory and input/output functions for improved reliability, lower power consumption and applicability across a wider variety of devices, Microsoft said.

While Windows 7 has been criticized for lacking the robust tablet touch-screen functionality of an iPad, Microsoft officials demonstrated numerous Windows-based devices that are in development and provide a variety of touch-screen experiences.

Some of the devices hint at the converged future Microsoft envisions. For example, one Samsung engineering prototype has a full keyboard which can slide under the device, making it appear like a tablet. One Acer prototype has two touch screens, with one of them acting as a keyboard when the user prefers to type and use a mouse.

Microsoft made the demonstrations with the Windows 7 user interface, but said the devices will actually be based on the next generation of Windows. The CES event was about showing off the underlying technology – the next Windows user interface was not previewed.

For now, Microsoft is saying that Windows Phone 7 will be limited to small screens, and the tablets will run on the Windows desktop OS. However, Windows Phone 7 was barely mentioned, and Microsoft did not make any demonstrations of next-generation smartphones during the press conference.

“Today we didn’t talk about any other form factors [besides tablets and PCs] and I didn’t make any calls,” Sinofsky said.

While Microsoft dominates the desktop operating system market, it is well behind Apple and Google in the smartphone and tablet space. At CES, Ballmer is expected to discuss how Microsoft will improve its mobile technology.

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Jon Brodkin

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