Live coverage of Google Keynote with Robin Williams
Paul Boutin|January 6, 2006 7:40 PM
Robin Williams to Larry Page during Q&A: "Hit 'em again, Mensa-boy, it's your turn."
The entire event is after the jump ...
The hottest ticket in town.
3:54pm It's insane here at the Las Vegas Hilton. The mob is in full press, even more than the older crowd of Gates groupies the other night. But we somehow got into the second row, aisle seats (Note to Nate Tyler: Please don't come kick us out!) Jason is firing up his new Canon and we'll be rapid-firing live in a few minutes.
Boy, these other journalists around us sure are taking it easy.
4:07 Jason spots Nick Negroponte's $100 laptop in the dark onstage and risks getting thrown offstage to get a shot of it.
4:14 Gary Shapiro (president of the Consumer Electronics Association who warms up every keynote) is onstage now, so we'll be live in a few. Gary, for those of you who don't live at CES, is now explaining how "Google is one of the most innovative companies of the last decade."
4:15 Here it comes -- The Google logo on the big screen is replaced with a warmup video of Google Earth. Zooms into high-res shot of the Eiffel Tower to audible whoooaaaaa from audience. Now zooms out and in to a buffalo and egrets chillin' in the grass. Cape fur seals on Cape Frio ... the Grand Canyon ... this is real data folks ... swooping over to Vegas and in on the Hilton ... into an animated version of this auditorium to zoom in exactly onto the original screen we saw with the Google logo ..
YHEAAAHHHH Larry, in a lab coat, rides onstage on the back of Stanford's robot SUV that won DARPA's competition. He's totally deadpan. "Wow, I've never seen so many cameras in my life."
Larry: "I wanted to let Stanley drive out automatically but they refused for good safety reasons." Inside is one of the car's developers.
4:20 Larry: "Those are laser scanners on the top. That plus GPS was enough to get it through the desert." Larry isn't Steve Jobs, but he's sincere.
Joke product announcement: Google Fast Food autopilot for your dashboard.
"Seriously we have a lot of things to show you ... we had a project with VW to do a prototype Google dashboard ... This is Daniel, he's going to give a quick demo of going from Las Vegas to the Strip ... you can see restaurants and gas stations ... you can also see a birds-eye view ... this is all live (unlike earlier demo)
Larry demos a phone version, Google Local Mobile. There's a Blackberry version you can download now.
Google Local Mobile
4:25 Larry explains that he really geeked out his first time at CES, "but the devices really didn't connect to each other." He recaps how Vint Cerf (now at Google) guided the Internet's design to connect machines together.
Larry wants the two guys in the front row to be able to trade pix on their cameras without going to a computer. "But I don't want the device manufacturers to go out and try to implement it, because you won't think of all the cool ways to do it," etc etc. "We should really enable software people to do what they know how to do."
"There's a lot of talk at this conference about having TVs connected to the Internet. Why can't you just plug your TV into whatever the nearest thing is - USB, WiFi, Bluetooth ... Why can't your bluetooth phone start your car, since it already has a bluetooth speaker built in, instead of you having to carry your keys?
"As a rule as a device manufacturer, one wire should be able to do anything possible. It should work the same whether you plug that wire into your house, your neighbor's house, or all around the world...
"Why is there no standard for those little screens and keypads?
Now shifting to talk about electrical power. Shows photo of power adapter clutter. "Why can't we just standardize the power with a really nice power supply? (shot of happy power supply) We really needs standards in these areas.
"Most devices can be connected through adapters. You can basically adapt anything to USB for like $20. Do you really need all these ports running around? I don't think it's really necessary. Phones have been a really positive example. You can connect any bluetooth headset to any blue
"What we really need are adapters .. standards for security, discovery, peering and forwarding to the internet .. we also needs standards for protocols ,.. audio, video, displays...
"Finally like I mentioned, you can take USB and do most of these things with it.
Power supplies today ...
... and tomorrow?
" I just want to plead with you to help standardize these things. I thought I'd throw this out to get people thinking.
He explains how they've set up Wi-Fi all around Mountain View, Calif for the campus.
"You can email anyone, but you can't instant message anyone. Guess which was developed at universities."
"Our users and AOL users can message each other. The openness of Google talk ..." (shows Google Talk for Blackberry and Nokia
"Let me switch gears and talk about a very serious issue. There's about 15 percent of the world on the Internet. If you look at a picture of the Earth from space at night .. wherever you see light there's Internet, and there's people using Google (Africa is dark) I think this is really sad, something to work on ... one of the initiatives is this $100 computer we've been working on with MIT ... I think it's an important thing to get people greater access.
"Another thing is power ... "
Shows Current Internet-over-power adapter.
4:25 ANNOUNCEMENT! "We're announcing Google Pack.
"It makes installing software as easy as going to the Google home page. And how much is it?"
Larry: "That's right, it's free."
4:45 "Another thing we want to announce. It's always been a dream of Sergey's to have Google implanted into your brain, and we've got someone to demo that ..."
Robin Williams boots up midstage and does the funniest act he's done in years of a Web-connected human constantly disrupted by porn spam (he's actually riffing on the Adult Entertainment Expo being next door to CES, but it's funny because it sounds a lot like Googling with Safe Search turned off.) We can't do it justice except to quote, "Larry, do you realize you sound just like Mister Rogers?"
They put spotlight on San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom in the audience (Robin is from SF). Robin riffs about same-sex divorce.
4:52 ROBIN WILLIAMS WILL NOT STOP!! He's mocked Asian CES booths ("you sit on rrraptop dancer"), gays, the porn convention next door, the auto show next door, NASCAR, the talking Mercedes-Benz (impersonates Nazi SS officer: "Are you a Jew?" Audience winces. Robin feigns backpedalling: "It vas just a question"). Talking Bluetooth tools around the house. "You want to watch movies again? I talked to your computer. I knowwwww what you like."
Some attendees later told us the video stream to the overflow room for the event blacked out part of the act, supposedly because it was too controversial.
4:55 That was hiliarious and exhausting.
4:56 Promo video for Google Video. Alas, very much like all the other promo videos for CONTENT! we've seen all week. Just waiting for them to get to the inevitable "... lets consumers control what they want, when they want, where they want ..."
Ok, they didn't say it, and the clip ended with a funny, creative special-effects video of two guys sort of hackey-sack dancing in mid-air. [It's called Poop Today? ]
5:01 "Today we're announcing Google Video Store ... cartoon classics like Rocky and Bullwinkle ... the NBAA has allowed us to download all their games 24 hours later.
NBA commentator Kenny Smith walks down the aisle interrupting "Hey hey, wait a minute here."
Larry, convincingly: "Who the heck are you?"
Usual trade show banter.
5:04 CBS TV classics will be available for $1.99 each. Including Star Trek. You'll be able to sell your own stuff.
Les Moonves from CBS comes onstage. We're going to post photos.
Les: "Who would have thought these two brands would appear together?"
Audience member: "Not you!"
5:10 Larry brings Robin back on for Q&A
Jason: "When is the Google PC and operating system coming out?"
Larry: "Is there a rumor?"
Paul: "What's the biggest video resolution we can download from the store, and what format?"
Larry: "I'm not sure..."
Paul: "Is it more than 320x240 for iPod?"
Larry: "Yes. It's not H264, I think it's 640x480."
Doc Searls: "Will the video only run on Windows?"
Larry: "I think we've not done as good a job as we should. We have a version for Mac that's not downloadable yet. We have some teams working hard on getting the other things ported but they're not out yet."
Q: Will it work with non-US credit cards?
Larry: "Maybe not right away, but eventually."
Reporter from Screen Actor's Guild SAG magazine: "What parameters are in place to prevent the unauthorized downloading of actors' images from the Internet?"
Robin Williams mocks him savagely. "Nice to see a union man in the house! Good to see your hands are still in someone's pocket."
French reporter says content demo seemed pretty US-centric.
Williams launches into long, cruel French parody: "Zey have Dizneyland - Minnie Mouse wiz armpit hair!"
Reporter with Euro accent asks intractably long question about language barriers, ends by asking if Larry will let Robin make a joke first.
Robin mimics his accent: "I would, but you are doing so well yourself."
Larry talks about translation plans. "I don't think language is the main barrier."
Robin: "We have an English-to-English translation for the President that's working very well."
We're skipping lots of the wonky or self-promoting questions to post photos. But the key thing about the Q&A act was that if you said anything self-promotional or tried to pose a confrontational question to Larry, Robin would take the wind out of your sails in front of the whole audience (who got to see your reaction on the big screen) before handing off to Larry ("Hit 'em again, Mensa boy, it's your turn") to give a dry answer.
5:35 Larry to audience, "If you turn around it keeps saying TIME UP in bigger and bigger fonts." We all gotta go!
General opinion around us is this is one of the best keynotes ever. Incredibily entertaining yet sincere. Jason says, "There was no spin. I still don't know what Viiv is about, but I understood everything [Google] showed today perfectly."
5:38 Michael Jones (CTO Google Earth) comes up to kick us out -- no wait, he wants to tell us the team backstage has been reloading Engadget every minute while doing the show's A/V.
We're going to do Q&A with Larry in a few minutes. We'll read your comments first...
6:00 from underground press room, to which we've been led down a long series of Spinal Tap-style under-the-theater corridors until we're sufficiently lost.
Larry explains they move Google Video to a common codec format to prevent frustrating video problems (but, obviously, without committing to a vendor partnership to do so)
Larry on the company's 20 Percent Time policy, which lets employees work one day a week or so on their own projects or whatever they want. "The imporant thing about 20 percent time is it lets you say no to your manager. That's a real change in the dynamic. Nobody can tell you you can't experiment. It doesn't mean you get resources."
Reporters ask about details of DRM deal with CBS.
Larry: "There're a bunch of details about that; I remember some of them, but they're not important. What we've seen with iTunes is that having a pretty good user experience is important ... I think this was a courageous move (for CBS.)"
To paraphrase a Q&A with Doc Searls about whether Google is "a long term hack on the producer-consumer relationship," Larry says to remember the academic origins of the Web, and CEO Eric Schmidt's academic background. The cool thing about the Web when it launched, he says, was that there was no real barrier to putting things online, "so people put up all sorts of crap. I think we're trying to move that further along."
Eric Schmidt on Google PC: "With all due respect, we issued a statement that we have tremendous partners in the PC space, so we have no interest in doing it. I guess some people don't believe it."
Larry on Yahoo's lead in personalization and social networks: "The data that defines you socially isn't really that complicated, or that hard to collect." He makes some dismissive comment about people being impressed that Yahoo has lots of people's ZIP codes.
Eric says he argued with Larry and Sergey about the need to do Google Pack, but they convinced them it was necessary to make the experience a lot better.
Question about the lack of productivity software in the Pack: "There's a lot of software like Open Office out there. But we wanted to focus on keeping it simple and making the download work. We didn't think that was the right sort of thing to put in there at first until we'd debugged it."
Larry on video interoperability: "Technologically, I don't think this is a complicated problem."
John Markoff (NY Times) pins them on whether Microsoft could use Vista and monopoly power to knock them out. Larry: "Anything's possible. That's possible." Schmidt says Google really believes in user choice and open alternatives and thinks it's a viable defense against Microsoft's leverage.
Steven Levy (Newsweek) suggests that Google Pack helps Microsoft because it's basically a service pack for Windows.
Larry: "Uhhmmmm, yeah! (shrugs) A lot of people use Windows."
Photos: Jason Calacanis, Canon EOS-20D
Text: Paul Boutin