Microsoft first launched its Kinect gadget for the XBOX 360 in November 2010 and since then has shipped more than 18 million units, making it the fastest-selling consumer device in history. A response to the huge sales of Nintendo’s motion sensor-led Wii, Kinect does away with the need for a controller and instead allows us to navigate the 360’s menus and play some games with a waft of the hand and kick of the leg.
Open source Kinect for everyone
In the face of such huge sales figures, Microsoft has wisely chosen to open up the Kinect technology to other developers as an open source SDK (software development kit) with a first eye on Windows PC and Mobile. This means developers can take the Kinect technology and develop it for a huge range of markets and applications, from education to medicine, manufacturing and anything else a creative mind can come up with.
That’s not to say we’ll see the exact same Kinect gadget from the console, but rather that it uses the same infrared and CMOS camera technology to motion spot and capture gestures. Although the existing Kinect has been widely hacked by tech-savvy users for other applications outside of the XBOX 360, this is the first officially compatible Windows Kinect and the first time the technology has been opened up to all.
The Kinect for Windows SDK on the PC launched on February 1, with a retail price across the pond of $250 for the accompanying hardware (or $150 for qualified educational customers). It’s worth noting though that Kinect for XBOX 360 currently sells for $130 and there is no UK price point at time of writing.
Kinect for Windows PC
Kinect for Windows aims to revolutionise how we interact with our PC and has enjoyed some major hardware and firmware developments over its gaming-centric predecessor. Primary of these is the enhanced sensor with its Near Mode feature, which means the depth camera can accurately detect objects as close as 50cm, or with ‘graceful degradation’ down to 40cm. This opens up a wide scenario of ‘close up’ applications – crucial to a PC user who will be sitting far nearer to the screen than a gamer traditionally would.
Other sharp improvements cover skeletal tracking, allowing developers to better control who is being tracked by the Kinect sensor and with more accurate rendition of movement, and better speech recognition components.
Kinect for Windows won’t require us to touch control anything – instead think about scrolling through documents and photos with a flick of the hand, pausing media with a raised palm and closing your PC down simply by getting up and walking away from it.
Kinect for Windows Mobile
Not quite as well developed, but definitely coming, is Kinect for Windows Mobile. We've already seen it working with Windows 7 and Windows Phone Mango (keep reading for examples), but we're expecting the big developments to come on the Windows 8 platform, complete with a customisable operating system in the same vein as Google Android's customisable OS.
Currently focusing more on integration into notebooks running Windows 8 than smartphones or tablets, there are already some Asus-hardware prototypes in circulation, although not yet commercially available.
Microsoft is expected to license its Kinect for Mobile software to a brace of manufacturers on the understanding that they don’t use any other motion sensing technology in their devices. Details are still patchy and there is as yet no set price or release date for Kinect for Mobile, but one school of thought suggests that Kinect could be a self-contained peripheral that you plug into your device to use. In theory this Kinect would have its own battery or power adaptor in an effort to save the usually insufficient battery life of most portable devices. While most of us would prefer it as an integrated feature, it remains to be seen whether the added functionality it offers would be significant enough payoff for a much shortened battery life.
Kinect apps and application
Apps like the already-developed ‘Log Me In’ demonstrate Kinect’s application beautifully, where it uses Kinect tech to analyse and recognise your face and voice when you sit in front of your notebook – just utter your password and if it all matches up, your device unlocks. Cool. We love the thought too of being able to control and interact with our PC or notebook from out of reach without the need for another peripheral like a cordless mouse.
There are plenty of other applications to Kinect for Mobile technology floating around. From integrating your XBOX 360 and your Windows Mobile phone to the nth degree, as demo’drecently at CES in Las Vegas where a Nokia Lumia was used to access and control content on the XBOX Marketplace via the console. The idea here is that the XBOX 360 becomes the beating heart of your entertainment world, always-accessible using Kinect on your smartphone.
There are also examples of Kinect Mobile working with Windows 7 here and Windows Phone Mango here in a couple of short, sharp demos of ways the technology can be applied, in particular where the XBOX is concerned.
Imagine using your phone to manipulate and control gaming characters, for example with XBOX 360 FIFA. While passing and shooting the ball can be controlled with a well-aimed leg kick, moving and tilting the handset could control other aspects of the game, and all that on-screen info like game radar and player info could be shown exclusively on your phone, effectively de-cluttering the main playing screen.
As well as these big-leap expectations, there are simpler, more instantly appealing apps already launching. Kinectimals lets you create characters on a Windows Phone and send them direct to your XBOX 360 using a QR code via Wi-Fi. Kinectivity is another app that integrates a Windows Phone using the Kinect camera to transfer information from phone to 360 ‘virtually instantaneously’. Check out the video here.
One thing this does show us is that Microsoft is investing in Kinect as a next-gen tech that it expects to revolutionise how we interact with our devices, be they console, PC, notebook or smartphone. Sensibly, Microsoft isn’t throwing all its eggs in one basket, but is rather exploring possibilities on a variety of platforms and encouraging other companies (and individuals for that matter) to get creative with their tech. As general manager for Kinect for Windows, Craig Eisler, notes, “We are building the Kinect for Windows platform in a way that will allow other companies to integrate Kinect into their offerings and we have invested in an approach that allows them to develop in ways that are dependable and scalable.” Kinect, then, is here to stay.
Have you tried the Kinect - what do you think? Will you be looking to use it on other devices? Let us know in the comments below.