NEWS - Thursday, January 8, 2004

Xbox sets course for sales

The Consumer Electronics Show doesn’t officially start until today, but the Las Vegas Convention Center was already buzzing with activity yesterday. Exhibitors worked furiously to set up booths in time for the show’s kickoff. People swarmed registration booths to get their conventioneer name badge, and loading trucks zigzagged all over the convention floor. Las Vegas cab drivers, who always seem to have something to say about a convention here, predicted the CES crowd would be large and more down-to-business than Comdex, the computer trade show that takes place every fall. One cab driver said that in Comdex’s heyday, attendees wanted to know all about the newest strip clubs. CES attendees, the driver said, want to know things like where the closest Kinko’s are. While the generalization may have some truth, it’s a good bet that the strip clubs will see some CES business this week. Snow way: With the treacherous weather this week, it’s no surprise even Microsoft executives are having travel problems. Chief Xbox Officer Robbie Bach said he arrived at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport at 5 p.m. Tuesday to fly to Vegas for the show. After suffering through numerous delays, he finally took off at 11:30 p.m. and landed at 1:30 a.m. yesterday. He caught a few hours of sleep and headed to the Riviera casino to give the keynote speech for the Digital Games Summit, a video-game forum produced in association with CES. His voice was a little gravelly, but that probably sounded normal to sleep-deprived video gamers. Xbox marks its spots: Bach announced a few new Xbox figures during his speech yesterday, including some target goals the company has set for June of this year. By that time, Microsoft expects to have shipped between 14.5 million and 16 million Xbox consoles worldwide. It also plans to have at least 1 million subscribers to the Xbox Live online video-game service. "We have to turn video games from being a solitary experience into a communal experience," Bach said. Auto talk: Motorola is shuttling journalists around in cars this week to show off a new navigation system it has developed with Avis, the car-rental company. People who rent cars from Avis can also rent a Motorola cellphone, although the cellphone can make calls only to Avis. The phone is mounted on the windshield and can be programmed with an address; as the car moves, the phone calls out directions to the driver, such as "In 100 yards turn left." Motorola is using its internally developed Viamoto software, which gives drivers directions based on GPS location technology in the cellphone. Avis tested the product in Dallas and Washington, D.C., last spring, and is rolling out the service in Seattle this week for a $9.95 daily fee. Too bad there aren’t instructions for driving in snow and slush.


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