CES kicks off

The biggest technology and gadget show, CES, just kicked off in Las Vegas, and as usual much of the talk surrounds Apple:

Apple is the only company that consistently gets big buzz out of the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas — without even attending.

This year will be no different.

Connected TVs — TVs that connect to and can access content from the Internet — will be a big part of CES this year. And just about everyone in tech expects Apple at some point to launch such a television — an iTV — that easily consumes and shares with other Apple devices content served from the company’s media-storing iCloud.

Microsoft made news earlier by saying this was the last year they would attend CES/ Why attend if Apple gets all the buzz anyways? Maybe Microsoft should focus on new products instead of protecting its Windows/Office cash cow? Or maybe not . . .

GAME REVIEW: Gears of War 3 – RAAM’s Shadow DLC

Fans of third-person shooters have become accustomed with getting the same, stale DLC over the years – usually new maps, but every once in a while, an extra game mode or weapon is thrown in for good measure – which is why an add-on like “RAAM’s Shadow” is such a welcome surprise. A five-chapter campaign that takes about three hours to complete, the story shifts focus from Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad to follow the exploits of another group of COGs (Zeta Squad) as they attempt to evacuate Ilima City in anticipation of a Kryll storm being implemented by the Queen’s go-to badass, General RAAM. But wait — isn’t General RAAM dead? Yes, he is, but this takes place before the events of the original game, shortly after E-Day.

Though Zeta Squad doesn’t quite have the personality of Delta (although it’s probably unfair to compare the two considering you spend so little time with the former), it does feature several familiar faces like Lt. Minh Young Kim from the first “Gears of War,” Tai Kaliso from “Gears 2,” and cigar-chomping Michael Barrick from the “Gears” comic book series. Rounding out the quartet is female COG Alicia Valera, whose only real purpose in the story is connected to another “Gears” character from the latest installment.

While diehard fans will certainly enjoy the prequel-esque nature of the campaign due to how smartly it weaves into the fabric of the “Gears of War” universe, the highlight for a lot of people will be getting to play as General RAAM himself, who you take control of in corresponding missions throughout the campaign. But although RAAM offers a unique gameplay experience, it’s not very challenging. Sure, you’ll have fun charging at enemies with his oversized knife, or mincing them to pieces with his ever-present shield of Kryll, but because he’s near-invincible, you never feel the same sense of danger as you do while playing as a COG. Most people won’t mind, however, because “RAAM’s Shadow” is still good value for its price, with additional goodies like six multiplayer character skins and a new chocolate-themed weapon skin. If this is what fans can expect from future DLC, then you might want to think again about picking up a Season Pass.

The power behind Microsoft’s Kinect

Microsoft’s Kinect has some undoubtably cool technology, but cooler than its game applications could be the power behind the camera. This video shows what Kinect is capable of once it has been hacked to allow a little input. The results are astonishing.

Walt Mossberg writes a damning review of Windows Phone 7

A customer views a mobile phone with the new Windows 7 operating system after its arrival in British shops, in central London October 21, 2010. REUTERS/Toby Melville (BRITAIN - Tags: BUSINESS SCI TECH)

Let me start by saying this: I don’t think Walt Mossberg’s review of Windows Phone 7 will make or break the platform. The platform will break the platform, especially if, as Mossberg suggests, Windows Phone 7 fails to compete with Android and the iPhone.

Here’s the real hammer blow:

But I couldn’t find a killer innovation that would be likely to make iPhone or Android users envious, except possibly for dedicated Xbox users. Even the built-in Office can be replicated with third-party Office-compatible apps on competing platforms; and the iPhone and Android phones also can interoperate with Microsoft’s corporate Exchange email, calendar and contact system.

So for now, I see Windows Phone 7 as mostly getting Microsoft into the game, and replacing the stale, complicated Windows Mobile system that preceded it. It will get better. The company is already working on a copy and paste system, and said it is coming early next year. But, today, I see Windows Phone 7 as inferior to iPhone and Android for most average users. It’s simply not fully baked yet.

That was Microsoft’s whole schtick – that Windows Phone is different from old Windows Mobile, different from the iPhone, different from Android. The only difference, though, is that it’s months, even years behind its competitors in terms of tech. Without improving the tech behind the phone, how can Microsoft hope to compete?

The bottom line – they can’t. If anything, Microsoft should have looked into producing a killer set of apps for the current mobile marketplace. If Windows Phone 7 bombs, which seems very likely at this point, there goes millions upon millions of dollars in development and advertising. In a couple years, maybe even just one, Windows Phone could have a competitive offering, but my guess is that by then it will be way too late.

Verizon won’t be selling Windows Phone 7 at the onset

Windows Phone 7.Hoho, I can already hear Ballmer’s ears spewing steam as the entirety of the tech blogosphere compares Windows Phone 7 to the iPhone. Bloomberg reported today that Verizon would not be carrying Microsoft’s new phone any time this year, though there are plans to support the new platform at some point in 2011.

Of course, the world says “Hey, you don’t need Verizon to be successful. Just look at the iPhone.” Yeah guys, let’s do that. When the iPhone launched, there was nothing like it in the marketplace. Nothing. No one turned to Apple and said, ‘Just look at the…’ There was nothing to look at. Now, there is. There’s the iPhone, but more importantly, there’s Android, which has a far more attractive licensing structure (free) than Microsoft will for Windows Phone 7.

If I were Microsoft, I’d be really worried. I know they aren’t. I know we’ll get to hear about how strong the relationships are with other carriers and how widespread success on those carriers will bleed over into eventual success on Verizon. I doubt it, I really do. Microsoft is late to the party. The best thing Windows Phone 7 could have done was showing up at the door with the hottest chick in school.