The Kinect has gone on sale today. Microsoft's new touchless, full body (plus facial expressions), gesture-based interface for the XBox360 gaming system is going to make a big splash in the contemporary consumer market- but how far could it be extended as an interface for the technology of the future?
Could Kinect, or something like it, someday be the way we flick a phone call from our mobile device to our smart TV? Could it be the way we gesture in the air to switch views on our home monitor from room to room? Could it be the way we dial our web-connected home appliances up and down, based on recommendations provided by online services that are watching local energy prices fluctuate? In the following article, we'll consider the perspectives of three of the world's top technology analysts, all with very different perspectives on the future of Kinect beyond the Xbox.
Take 1: Kinect is Going to Rock You Like a Hurricane
James McQuivey is a Consumer Product Strategy analyst at Forrester, the second largest firm in the analyst world. He could not be more enthusiastic about the Kinect's potential for disruption. Two weeks ago he wrote a blog post titled Get Ready For Kinect To Completely Change Our Lives.
McQuivey says the Kinect "will usher us into a new era Forrester has entitled the Era of Experience." He calls the Era of Experience "the next phase of human economic development."
"This is an era in which we will revolutionize the digital home and everything that goes along with it: TV, internet, interactivity, apps, communication. It will affect just about everything you do in your home...
"Kinect is to multitouch user interfaces what the mouse was to DOS. It is a transformative change in the user experience, the interposition of a new and dramatically natural way to interact -- not just with TV, not just with computers -- but with every machine that we will conceive of in the future..."Kinect is to multitouch user interfaces what the mouse was to DOS.""In this era, companies can no longer succeed by simply building a great product or distributing it efficiently because competitors can do the same. Instead, it is the compelling nature of the total product experience that will create value for consumers. To truly compel, these experiences have to engage your mind, your body, and your sense of self."
Those are strong words! McQuivey believes that in 10 years, 70% of homes will have this kind of technology and be using "dozens of enhanced applications I have imagined as well as the thousands I have yet to envision..."
Will there be a tidal wave of app developers who flood the world of gesture-based interfaces as there has Apple's revolutionary new interfaces? McQuivey says the early conversations he's been having with a wide variety of companies indicates that there will be.
"I've been demonstrating 3D sensing technology to marketers and developers for several months now and each time we get through the demo, people gasp because they quickly see how this will overhaul their businesses.
"Retailers see how it will be the first virtual store technology that really moves people; financial service firms see how it will become a kind of window through which their customers will look to them to graphically render the consequences of their investment decisions; and advertisers see infinite ways they can not only sponsor these experiences but create marketing experiences that are as engaging as the games and movies that people otherwise consume in the living room.
"It is the power of these developers, first summoned by Apple, that will - once they put their hands on Kinect and all its spawn - create the future I am predicting here."
Take 2: Kinect As Post-iPad Technology
Michael Pachter is the video gaming industry's best-known analyst and an advisor to big mutual funds and hedge funds at Wedbush Morgan Securities.
Pachter has paid close attention to the Kinect and he's skeptical, because the XBox360 is a hard-core gamer's console. He suspects that many hard-core gamers are going to be resistent to buy an interface that only appeals to casual gaming family members that would leave them with less time to use their XBoxes.
"It's very much like using an iPad, instead of touching the screen, you swipe your hand across the view of a machine," Pachter says. "It's a very sensitive camera - you'll probably have to move your hand 5, 6, 8 inches - but it's intuitive. I think Microsoft is making an interface like the iPad, much like Windows copied the Mac interface. I think consumers will like that."
Will the Kinect move beyond the XBox? "I would love to talk to my TV," Pachter says. "I hate all the stupid buttons I have to push. It is trainable to do all kinds of things - but I'm not sure if it's going to control other devices."
Take 3: Kinect or Not, the Gesture Web of Things is Coming
Imagine sharing photos from your phone to a friend's phone just by flicking your finger their direction - or putting photos on your TV that way. Imagine transferring a phone call from your phone to your TV with a flick.
Sharma is the analyst who wrote the widely cited research finding that for the first time this Summer there were more connected devices coming online with Verizon and AT&T than new human subscribers.
Sharma is big on wirelessly connected devices and he believes that gesture-based interfaces like the Kinect could be a key way that we interact with those devices in the future.
"The problem will be putting processing power into smaller devices," he says. "But I can see this becoming pervasive in home devices. There might be some short term hurdles, but I think Microsoft will make this available on other devices. If the intelligence is there on the other devices, I think it [a Kinect-type interface] can easily be available."
Sharma points out, however, that Microsoft is far from the only company working on motion-sensing interface technology. Adobe, he says, is working on this "from a content perspective" and he's seen innovative motion-sensing work being done by Invensense. Sony's Playstation Move is related and there are others.
What do you think? Do you think that a motion interface could disrupt the way we interact with all our media and devices in the future? It's a compelling sci-fi vision. As of today, we're a lot closer to finding out whether or not that sci-fi vision of the future will come true.