Microsoft's Bach on Courier, Natal, tablets, and phones

In an interview, the president of Microsoft's entertainment unit answers some (but not all) of our questions on what Microsoft has cooking on the consumer hardware front.

LAS VEGAS--Ahead of Microsoft's keynote on Wednesday, I had a chance to sit down with Entertainment and Devices head Robbie Bach to get his thoughts on some of the hottest topics in tech.

I tried (albeit with only mixed success), to pin him down on Windows Mobile 7, Google's recent Android moves, Project Natal, as well as the rumored tablets from both Redmond and Cupertino.

As for Natal, Bach wasn't ready to open up too much beyond confirming that it will ship this year.

"We'll announce that Project Natal will be available Holiday 2010, so this coming holiday, which is very exciting," Bach told CNET. "It's important news not just for consumers. It means retailers will want to get ready. Our game publishers are busy producing games for Project Natal. I think you are going to see a lot of momentum and excitement build over that."

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Aiming to pin him down on price, I tried to see if I might get a ballpark estimate, noting that some of my friends usually get me a $25 gift card for the holidays. I asked if I will need just a few of them or a bunch of them to go in together if I want Natal. He laughed but didn't bite.

"The two things we won't be talking about here are games that will be available or pricing and configurations," Bach said. "If you have a 360, it will work with Natal."

He did talk about the lineup of new, non-Natal games that are coming this year.

"It's sort of a big hit exclusive every month going through the year," he said, rattling off a list of titles ranging from Splinter Cell Conviction to Halo Reach, the latest in the Halo franchise.

I also tried to pin him down on Courier, Microsoft's rumored dual-screen tablet.

Question: I understand it is a legitimate video. How real is it as a product? Is this something that is just kind of in the idea stage? Where is it?
Bach: We do a lot of exploratory videos on a lot of different products. The video that went around the Internet that was the so-called Courier is just another example of those. We do a lot of those. We don't comment on them. They are not things we actively talk about. It certainly won't be something we will talk about here at CES.

Question: Are you guys beyond the brainstorming stage of what a device like that might look like?
Bach: It's tough to comment on something we are not commenting on.

I also had only limited success in trying to get Bach to open up more on the phone business.

Question: When are you guys going to play catch up? Where are things with Windows Mobile 7?
Bach: At this show, the one thing we will be talking about is a new HTC phone called the HD2, which is a very cool, capacitive device (the first capacitive Windows mobile device). I think that's going to be very exciting and continue to build our momentum on Windows phones. Then the next wave of news will come at Mobile World Congress, which is in Barcelona in February.

Question: There was some phone news this week, though, with Google talking about Nexus One and more importantly, probably, its strategy, where it is going to have several of its own devices. Do you think what they've done, where they have Android as an opportunity for partners but then their own devices they control more closely, does that open up the playing field for you guys to get more active in the hardware space, perhaps doing a Microsoft phone?
Bach: Really what that does is it sends a signal about the future of Google's direction. We'll see how operators and (phone makers) respond to that. It's an interesting approach. Certainly our focus is going to be on operators and (phone makers).

Question: So we should expect for the time being you guys are going to continue with the (partner-based) approach?
Bach: That's correct and we think that going forward that is going to create a system with a lot of diversity and a lot of different styles of phones.

Question: So far, and it's obviously early, but they seem to be able to have their cake and eat it too. There's a wide range of Android devices made by third parties and now there are going to be devices from Google?
Bach: You don't know whether they can have their cake and eat it too because they announced it yesterday. We'll just have to see how it plays out. One thing I do know, people are very excited about the work we are doing around the future of Windows Mobile and it should be fun to talk about.

 

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