September 17, 2008
Microsoft's Xeudong Huang Delivers Keynote at ITEXPO West, Emphasizes Telephony Ease-of-Use and Describes Future Natural User Interface
By Richard Grigonis, Executive Editor, IP Communications Group
Xuedong Huang, General Manager at Microsoft (News - Alert) Corp. delivered a fascinating keynote address at the INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & EXPO West 2008 (ITEXPO) being held at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles, California.
“I asked Jerry Seinfeld to join me today,” joked Huang, in reference to the recent series of Microsoft TV commercials starring Seinfeld and Bill Gates, “but he couldn’t make it.”
“What I’m going to talk about today is the magic of software and how it can change not only business communications but our lives in general,” said Huang. “The communications industry is undergoing a fundamental shift, from hardware to software. Software is key. The appearance of Graphical User Interfaces in the 1990s really placed the PC into mainstream usage, because it made computers easy to use. Windows was the great platform for this. As time moved on, the Internet really took things to the next level. Now we had a GUI ‘point-and-click’ ability to move around the web and view information and entertainment by clicking on URLs. Search engines made it possible to find URLs pointing to Web sites of interest.”
“So, what’s next? Cloud services – computing within a cloud, with many smaller devices, including the PC and smartphones, and even perhaps your refrigerator, table, the rest of your kitchen, and so forthl,” said Huang. “Everything will be transformed into ‘smart’ devices. Of course, communications is a big part of that, since it helps everything work together. The most important aspect of this is the development of a truly natural user interface. This will include multi-modal interactions, not just multi-modal communication, which is only a part of it. People will be able to communicate with devices as they would with other people, via speech, gestures, touch, handwriting, and so forth. Also, devices will understand the context-aware concepts of natural language, not just simple speech commands. This is the new era into which Microsoft is entering, and we have been investing tremendously over the past 20 years to bring successively better interfaces – and now the natural user interface - to the public.”
“Of course, Microsoft is not alone in working to bring the natural user interface to the public,” said Huang. “The Apple (News - Alert) iphone and its touch screen has become very popular. But note that a Microsoft subsidiary, Tellme Networks, has developed voice-enabled mobile search, directory assistance and computerized, speech-driven customer service hotlines.”
Microsoft’s Tellme technology can be applied to everything from their Office suite to mobile search. The idea is that you can talk to your TV (“I want to see CNN”) or ask your mobile or Internet phone for some information, as you would a person.
“Getting back to business communications for a moment, our newest unified communications product is Response Point,” said Huang. “Most businesses today are vertical in nature. Many vendors provide PBX (News - Alert) systems from the phones, applications, firmware and hardware. Even the reseller channel are all vertical. It all looks identical to the computer industry. What did Microsoft do with the computer industry? Microsoft, Intel (News - Alert) and others labored to make the vertical into the horizontal. The same transformation is happening now to the communications industry. Many big computer players in the 1980s couldn’t make the transition to a horizontal world. But with a horizontal industry you have more choices. You can increase competition and provide a better ecosystem for both partners and customers. This new horizontal era is coming to the world of communications. People will be in the center of this. The many different existing ‘silos’ such as email, audio conferencing, video, and so forth are making life too complicated. Microsoft wants to simplify that with such things as people-centric unified communications.”
Microsoft’s Response Point “magic blue button” is a good example of how speech recognition technologies can assist SMBs and their phone activities, said Huang. Response point is a laptop-sized IP-PBX that now works with the PoE (Power over ‘Ethernet)-powered AastraLink RP phone system, demoed by Microsoft at the show. The "magic" blue button is embedded on the phones. This magic blue button enables you to use speech-recognition to do call transfers, directory lookups, other call control functions, and so forth. You can even say “free411” and it will connect to a free directory assistance service. (For less verbal folks, the Response Point system also supports click-to-dial.) It also supports presence integration.
Huang showed a video of Aastra phones and the AastraLink Response Point system and how easy it is to plug in the phones and the LAN. Microsoft is planning to expand the Response Point system into a full-blown digital voice solution that will tie into SIP-based VoIP services from such partners as Cbeyond and New Global Telecom (News - Alert).
Xuang then went back to talking about the natural user interface, and how everything in computing and telecom will eventually evolve in this direction. He first showed a video that showed a standard table, and a computer with a standard USB camera affixed to it watches the table. The person is playing a pong-like game using a spot of light on the table justs as he would with a ball in a real game. The light moves and responds just like a real ball when it “hits” an object.
“Thus, real objects can be made to mix with the virtual world, seamlessly,” said Xuang. “We can turn a table into a ‘magic table’. Put your cell phone containing digital photos on the magic table, and the system will recognize it and extract the photos and project them onto the table. You can ‘touch’ the projected images and move and resize them, and push them off the table to share them with others. We can turn a wall into a ‘magic wall’, with menus and information appearing wherever you touch it. You can consider this technology ‘Surface 2.0’. It goes far beyond using a keyboard and mouse. They’re history.”
Huang then completely startled the audience by playing what was allegedly a “one-time only” video available nowhere else for viewing. It depicted a mind-blowing series of scenes in which any surface on any object could be anything – menus, stretchable screens, and so forth – and everything communicates intelligently and seamlessly with everything else.
“Of course, this is all extrapolated from current research, and I am not announcing a product based on this today,” said Xuang. “But this video depicts what is yet to come, based on what you can do with a natural user interface, thanks to the magic of software.”
“The future is bright and exciting,” said Xuang. “It will be natural and alive, and will be much simpler to deal with it than what we have now.”
INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & EXPO — the biggest and most comprehensive IP communications event of the year — is going on this week (September 16-18, 2008) in Los Angeles, California! The show features three valuable days of exhibits, conferences, and networking opportunities you can’t afford to miss. Be sure to check out TMCnet.com and blogs from Rich Tehrani, Greg Galitzine, and Tom Keating for news highlights from the show. See you there!