Microsoft’s Natural User Interface revolution: Part 1

Technology is a glittering lure, but there’s the rare occasion where the public can be engaged in a level beyond flash… if they have a sentimental bond with the product.

The famous words uttered by Don Draper on the hit AMC show Mad Men, as he pitched the Kodak Wheel (Carousel)

As you watch the video above, you the sense that the Kinect has gone beyond flash to a more deeper personal level. I have watched an endless amount of video of people interacting with the device on YouTube and by and large it is a hit. It makes adults feel like kids again dancing and moving around without any care in the world. As for the kids, even little 3 and 4 year olds can play games after a few minutes. That is a testament to Microsoft achieving the goal of getting technology out of the way and letting the users become the center of the experience, something that is basically impossible if a controller is involved. Microsoft’s investments in the Natural User Interface research seem to be finally paying off.

The question then becomes whether it will follow the path of the Wii and loose its luster after the initial excitement wears off. I personally don’t think it will suffer the same fate because the system does more than just video gaming. It is an entertainment system for additionally watching movies, listening to music and staying in touch with family through video Kinect and even Pay TV like their partnership with at&t Uverse. When it comes to reviews about the device, I like how this author from the article titled Kinect dealt a shellacking due to sofa party radicals? describes it.

The Kinect as one motion gaming and  Diwali dancing Nobel Laureate might say is getting a shellacking in reviews , but look closer and you will see that most of these reviews are by people who are not the target audience , can’t do lycra , and or are reviewers faced with 7 days of time to learn motor skills they managed to do without since birth..The same reviewers who initially had soooo many problems playing Nintendo Wii games …. remember?

Read reviews where the target audience is involved and it is a different story , kids in love with Kinectimals , fitness addicts remodelling their homes in anticipation , and the general casual public who will give a Sonics whisker about lag , gameplay , depth , when the point of the thing is to have fun , and in a group.

Engadget’s latest podcast is fraught with snarky comments by the hosts about the device that  give anyone second thoughts about purchasing the device.  Contrast that to the following tweets from actual normal users of the device.

@mohbyuz

The best thing about #Kinect? My 3-yr-old son jumping in to play #KinectAdventures with me, and having a blast rafting and blocking leaks.

@leolaporte

Bustin’ a move in Dance Central for Kinect. Even my hypercool teenager and his friends are dancing. Looks like a hit.

@smrnov

Dear @Xbox – Of the four families I had over this weekend to play #Kinect, four bought a system. I accept PayPal for commission payments.

@AttachedWPF

Used #Kinect video chat to talk to a friend of mine in idaho. Saw his kids for the first time in 5 years! love it!

@harperlindsey

So cool! “@TheRouse: After running the #kinect I.D. set up the sensor can tell the difference between my identical twin girls"

@NYCityMama

So we rearranged out entire living room/dining room space in our tiny NYC apt so that we could play #Kinect. lol! Yeah…insane.

@victorgaudioso

@othmaniRabeb & that’s my wife & her sister, 30-something women playing w #Kinect like little kids. WATCH this vid; u WILL laugh!

@peetND

My daughter, 3 years old, tried to move pointer on computer like she does on #kinect this afternoon

@chrisTHEgreat23

lovn that #kinect RT @RikuzaZero Never thought I’d see the day, but my parents are jockin on my xbox. and winning. wow.

@Scobleizer

First experience with Microsoft Kinect? It is 10,000x more fun than Sony Move. Maybe even more fun than my iPad!

(Recall what I wrote that the kinect may actually give the iPad some competition?)

@MaxGoof

After relentlessly making fun of it since it was announced, I bought the Xbox 360 #Kinect today. I’m going straight to Hell when I die.

The thing about Kinect is that it is a totally new way to interact with computers that up to now was confined to special effects in movies. Add the amazing social features that come with Xbox live and you discover that it extends the Xbox’s  reach beyond video games. Here is what an analyst from Forrester had to say

LOS ANGELES — While the television industry is abuzz in anticipation over Google TV, the big story in the convergence of television and the Web could be the Xbox, says Forrester’s James McQuivey, a top industry analyst.With 30 million units installed in the U.S. and 42 million worldwide, the xBox could become the "dominant player in the television business overnight," he told our correspondent Jamison Tilsner in this interview at the Streaming Media West show.McQuivey notes that the integration of Kinect, which becomes available today, will provide extraordinary functionality for video viewers.

Oliver Chiang from Forbes magazine also observes this bigger picture

Kinect is not just a game system, but an entertainment and communication navigation system as well. Through the wave of your hand, you can browse through TV shows and movies, in Minority Report-like fashion. And Video Kinect makes video chat from the living room an easier and more accessible experience to users who are less tech-savvy, albeit one that can only connect you to other Kinect users of Windows Live Messenger users right now.

One thing I would like for Microsoft to update as fast as possible is enabling the Kinect voice and gesture controls to be used throughout the whole Xbox dashboard, especially controlling Netflix and Windows Media center.

With all that said, I believe that Windows Phone 7 is also part of this move by Microsoft towards implementing Natural User Interfaces within their products which I think will provide the users with a similar immersive and personal experiences as Kinect does. The CEO describes it as “Always delightful and wonderfully mine” a phrase I will try to tackle as it relates to the OS in part two of this article.

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