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Summary:

Microsoft is selling an average of 100,000 Kinect accessories per day, making it the hottest holiday seller this year. So why is Kinect capturing our imagination, and money, when Sony and Nintendo both have competing motion controls for their own systems? Let me show you!

microsoft-kinect-xbox-360

Each holiday season, there’s a must-have product that sends consumers scrambling to buy it before the store shelves are bare. Years ago, that product was the Tickle Me Elmo doll, and more recently, the Nintendo Wii during its initial launch. These two products and every hot holiday item in-between have shared one commonality: They were all standalone products. This year is different, however. In 25 days, Microsoft has sold 2.5 million of its Kinect controller: a $150 accessory to an existing product.

We ordered a Kinect for our household right after the first devices shipped so we could see and read end-user reviews. I’m glad we placed the order when we did, because we’re having a blast with the Kinect. The device sits in front of our television and captures the motion of multiple people with a built-in infrared sensor. Kinect then translates that motion into game control and menu navigation, essentially turning you in the controller. An integrated camera and microphone are also used by Kinect for voice navigation and chatting online with Xbox Live friends.

So why is Kinect such a hot seller by capturing our imagination (and money) when Sony and Nintendo both have competing motion controls for their own systems?

Total Immersion

Until Microsoft debuted its Kinect, earlier wireless, motion-capture products still required the use of a physical controller or device. Sony’s Move is held in the hand, as is Nintendo’s Wii Motion Plus, for example, and Nintendo’s small Wii Balance Board requires you to stand on it in order to use the board’s features. Kinect requires no controller to be held, stood upon or waved around. Without a controller, every part of you is in the game, not just your hands and fingers, which are generally the only things moving with a traditional game controller.

As a result, Kinect makes the experience immersive; sensor input, combined with software, provides full-body, 3-D, motion capture so as you move around, your video game character on the television follows suit. Your whole room is part of the game area, which of course brings the real world into play; trip over a piece of furniture and your video game character will fall down too. (I might be speaking from experience on that, but I’ll never publicly admit to it.) This immersion brings a social aspect as well. Which is more enjoyable for others to watch: You sitting in front of a screen moving your fingers and maybe your arms, or you jumping, dodging and ducking like this?

It’s the Future and It’s Affordable

Using Kinect for game control is only part of the allure; navigating around the Xbox menu  system without a controller is more appealing than it sounds. Just like movies that show futuristic virtual interfaces, you can move your hand from left to right to swipe menu choices across your television screen with Kinect. Or you can speak to Kinect to make things happen. The camera in Kinect supports facial recognition too; once trained, the device can automatically sign users in to their Xbox Live accounts.

Essentially, this an entirely new way for everyday consumers to interact with an interface, and it shows the future of touch-less computing that doesn’t break the bank. I’m not suggesting that $150 is an impulse purchase for everyone, especially in a down economy, but if you had told me what Kinect could do a year ago, I would have guessed that Kinect would be beyond the reach of most consumers. Instead, you can drive over to the local Target and (if you’re lucky) find a Kinect on the shelves.

You Can Hack It!

I doubt many Kinect sales are from folks buying the Kinect to hack the device for their own use, but by pushing Kinect far beyond its “out of the box” capabilities, it proves that this combination of hardware and software from Microsoft has potential beyond traditional gaming. For example, yesterday, I saw Oliver Kreylos’ project that merges data from two Kinect units to create a full 3-D image. The calibration isn’t quite right, causing image degradation on some edges, but it’s impressive, nonetheless.

With the technology of two Kinects and proper software to merge images, I can imagine future video calls that allow for variable points of view, offering a more realistic and 3-D experience. Other hacks I’ve noticed are along the same lines of my future interface point above. Students at M.I.T. already have the unit working with a web browser, while other hacks use natural gestures with Windows 7 to expand or contract pictures much as we do today on multitouch displays.

Kinect has even expanded business opportunities. Evoluce, a gesture-control company based in Germany,  jumped on the Kinect bandwagon by announcing its own software to bridge the Kinect with a Windows computer. You’d think Microsoft would be shutting down such hacks and third-party drivers, but instead, a company representative admitted to leaving Kinect’s USB interface open on the NPR Science Friday radio show.

Bonus Reason

Of course, there’s a fourth reason that Kinect is flying off the shelves: It’s downright fun to use! Aside from the games (there aren’t many just yet), I’m enjoying the two workout programs we purchased. I previously used Wii Fit for occasional exercise, but Nintendo’s product is like a basic exercise DVD while Kinect is akin to having an actual trainer in my house, measuring and critiquing my every move.

With Kinect, Microsoft has the potential to not only reinvent computer gaming today, but perhaps the computer interface of tomorrow. The possibilities are there, even if you hit your local store and Kinect isn’t.

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  1. I had a short discussion with Craig Mundie about it when it was still in research. Looking through the mail and reading between the lines. This is not the end of it.

    1. Totally agree, Ronald. There’s a ton of potential for natural user interface advancement (at a reasonable cost) with Kinect.

  2. Microsoft finally emerges out of it’s slumber… exciting times ahead, iron man style controllers shouldn’t be too far away

  3. It looks fun. I am not a video game fan but I could see myself play on a friend’s Kinect from time to time. For me the ideal gaming platform is the one I cold completely be immersed in “a la Matrix”. I’d like to feel every sensations, gravity, speed, vibrations like in a simulator. We’re not there yet, but Kinect looks fun. Good job Microsoft!!!

  4. “as is Nintendo’s Wii Motion Plus, for example, and you have to stand on Nintendo’s small Wii Balance Board to use it.”

    Not true at all. In fact I never played a game that required the use of the balance board along with the motionplus.

    1. Thank you for pointing out that this sentence may have been confusing. The language has been adjusted to make it clear that two different controllers were being discussed.

    2. You’re absolutely correct – poor wording my part as these were separate thoughts: you have to stand on the balance board to use it, not the Motion Plus. We’ve updated the language to make it clearer. Thx!

  5. Had it. Sold it. The tech is cool, but the software wears thin quickly. The integration with the xbox menu is half-ass. And in the end it’s a novelty. Consumers who are buying are already 360 owners.

    Wait for a killer app. Wait for a quality game. Wait for some real integration.

    Play it in the store. And enjoy it there. Don’t take it home with you. YOu’ll be glad you did in a month.

    btw, alot of advertising on the 360. The whole dashboard is an endless stream of advertising.

  6. Great post.

    Would love to see FioS/Uverse integrate Kinect overlays on TV. Uverse allows XBOX to be used as a STB today. I’d think those ipad apps to replace TV remotes (TIVO & Comcast) are non-starters compared to a kinect overlay at the right price.

    I’d cancel my TiVO for a Kinect overlay on TV anyday !

    ipad+TIVO = $1000, Kinect+XboxSlim+Overlay = $500 ?

  7. Will Microsoft’s Living-Room Quest Finally Pay Off?: Tech News « Friday, December 3, 2010

    [...] But recently the company has been swinging a hot bat, not only with its Xbox 360, which has been picking up momentum, but also with a legitimate holiday hit in the Kinect. [...]

  8. sony has sold far more of its new motion device so far…and microsoft has more x-box’s out there but you refer to the kinect as a hot seller over Sony and Nintendo’s product…thats just simply not true.

    1. Actually Jon, the Kinect is wiping the floor in sales numbers vs. the Move. 25 days since it’s release and MS is reporting 2.5 mil in “sell through” numbers (units actually sold to consumers) vs. Sony reporting 4.1 million “controllers” in “sell to” (sold to retailers, NOT necessarily to consumers) and it has been available for roughly 3 times as long (9/17/2010 release). I love my PS3, but the Kinect is really destroying the Move this seaon. To further demonstrate this, try getting a Kinect at Best Buy or through Amazon: either it is very pricey or sold out. A good article on the two can be found here http://www.conceivablytech.com/4404/business/sony-misleads-with-move-numbers-to-beat-xbox-kinect/

  9. with that said, the kinect still is pretty cool.

  10. Microsoft does not have Nintendo’s reputation for quality software, to say the very least. One of my kids wants a Kinect, so I was reading about some of the available games. One game with animals she’d mentioned apparently includes a dancing paper clip type of creation which yammers constantly, cannot be dismissed — that’s the kind of $#!& software I was worried about. Wii and Apple have consistently high software quality and interfaces — MSFT, not so much.

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