Microsoft is poised to change the world with Kinect. While not recognized as being as original with their new ideas as companies like Apple or Nintendo, Microsoft has the opportunity to leap ahead in the computing world thanks to Kinect.
To see the likelihood of this seemingly improbable occurrence, let’s take a look at the technological landscape of gaming. In response to the rule-changing interface design of the Wii, Microsoft created the Kinect. At its heart, Kinect is a set of cameras that watch how bodies move through the space in front of it, and software that translates that data into information that can then be used to control other programs. Nintendo is preparing to launch the 3DS, a handheld gaming system with a display that creates three dimensional imaging without the use of glasses. Similar display technology is being developed for televisions and monitors by the likes of Toshiba and others. Microsoft employs Johnny Chung Lee, among other brilliant and creative minds who are hard at work developing innovative user interface control schemes.
As a gamer, it is hard to look at the Kinect and not see something that is too late to the party. (Sony’s move seems both too little and too late.) But Kinect isn’t meant to succeed at gaming. The game industry is merely a test bed for further development. Alpha is the new beta, after all. Both Jerry Holkins (Tycho) and Mike Krahulik (Gabe) of Penny Arcade posted their reactions to Kinect. Krahulik sums up the side of the letdown gamer who has played these games years ago when the Wii came out. Holkins notes the power and potential of the botton-less interface (motion and voice recognition) seems to be a better fit for the general interface procedures, if not the games themselves.
Do you see it yet? The future impact of the Kinect is going to change the way we interact with technology. Embed tracking cameras in your 3D television display. The cameras identify your location relative to the screen and track your eye positions. The display alters the output based on that data to provide the user with a 3D image without the use of glasses. Head tracking can be used both to stabilize the image as the viewer moves, or to alter the angle at which the image is viewed. (I’m not sure how to handle the issue of multiple viewers.)
Shift this technology to your computer monitor. Not only do you have a nice 3D image floating over your desk, but now the tracking cameras can watch your hands and fingers and turn them into pointers that allow you to ‘directly’ manipulate the image in front of you. Grab and move windows, stretch them or shrink them, wad them up into a ball and try for a three-pointer like Robert Downey Jr. in Iron Man 2. Are you a painter? Throw away your Wacom tablet. Are you a sculptor or an architect? Manipulate your model, in space, with your fingers. The only thing missing with be the tactile feedback.
Kinect may be a weak entry into the world of gaming, but as developers hone the interface protocol, I think this technology will change the way we interact with computers and technology. And to succeed in that endeavor, it will need to be accepted by the masses. Companies that have innovated before their time have suffered when new technologies were beyond the reach of the target audience. The industry has suffered likewise as public denial delays future development. But if Kinect can establish this control technology as a household concept, the hardest challenge of indoctrinization will have been overcome. Then Microsoft can switch their tagline to “Resistance is Futile”.