We all knew it was coming the minute we laid eyes on the Kinect. The wireless, motion-based controller for the XBox 360 was designed for gaming but its potential uses for other human-machine interactions were immediately obvious. We saw it in the way the device let users flow through film selections in the Netflix UI using only their hands. The Kinect's potential also wasn't lost on hackers and tinkerers, who wasted no time making the device do all kinds of things outside of the scope of the XBox.
Lastnight, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer officially announced the next step for the Kinect: your PC. A version of the device for Windows will be available in a few weeks for $249. The company says that the higher price point is necessary because unlike the XBox version, Kinect for Windows won't be subsidized by things like game purchases and XBox Live memberships.
Although the device will cost as much as some smaller desktop PCs, its availability on the Windows platform could mark the beginning of a new era in mass market personal computing. Microsoft hasn't revealed exactly how Kinect for Windows will work, but a few applications seem likely. PC gaming is a safe bet, and it's easy to envision gesture and voice controls being used to navigate through various UIs, whether they be folders, websites, photo albums or other multimedia content.
The launch and early success of the Kinect for XBox 360 has enabled Microsoft to get a serious leg up on its competitors when it comes to this kind of motion and gesture-based control of PCs. Apple has a patent for a 3D gesture-controlled computing system not unlike the Kinect, although presumably Apple's implementation would include a few gestures familiar to iOS users, as well as voice control built on Siri's technology.
With this launch, Microsoft stands to do for gesture-based computing what Apple did for mobile voice control and multitouch. Together, these trends in human-machine interaction point to a future in which not only is the computer mouse a relic, but interfacing with our desktops, tablets, televisions and other connected devices is as natural as waving our hands and speaking. Or even just using your eyes.