Microsoft hopes new Kinect for Windows sparks app revolution
Released in 2010, Microsoft's Kinect was designed as an add-on for Microsoft gaming consoles. But thanks to amateur Windows developers, it has since then been used for applications as varied as musical performance and analyzing CAT scans. What innovations will developers think up for this new version?
When introduced in 2010, Kinect was meant to enhance the experience for gamers who played on an Xbox 360 – they could use the device's interactive motion-sensor technology to play games without a controller. Yet, while gamers did not necessarily take to the black rectangular box, another group did: amateur Windows software developers.
Since its release, innovations for connect Kinect – developed by so-called "Kinect hackers" – have been used to visually display electronic music, analyze CAT scans in operation rooms, and control a robot remotely. Needless to say, these developments, or "hacks," were not intended when Microsoft first put the Xbox addition on the market.
Now the company has embraced them as fundamental to the Kinect universe.
For starters, the new Kinect, like the first Kinect for Windows sensor released in 2012, is designed specifically for PCs, not gaming consoles; last month saw Microsoft announce the option of buying an Xbox One console without Kinect.
But perhaps more important, the Kinect developer features are central to Microsoft's marketing campaign for the new product.
"The Kinect for Windows v2 sensor gives developers more of the precision, responsiveness, and intuitive capabilities they need to develop interactive voice- and gesture-based applications for the Windows desktop and Windows Store," says the Microsoft Store.
This statement shows how essential collaboration with tinkerers has become to Kinect, similar to the way companies such as Google and Apple thrive on having developers constantly creating new apps to be sold in the Play store and the App Store.
According to a 2012 article in The New York Times Magazine, Microsoft's strategy of embracing experimentation from consumers illustrates an important trend: Giant companies like Microsoft – which the article points out has traditionally insisted on total control over its products – are recognizing the need to view amateur developers more as partners. Which is, the article notes, the way newer, smaller companies are approaching the market.
"More and more upstarts take it for granted that a community of customers, hobbyists and amateurs ... will innovate well beyond what any firm can come up with on its own," writes Rob Walker in the Times.
As such, a 2012 promotional video for Kinect showed how the device began as an interactive add-on for Xbox that let users issue voice and movement commands but quickly developed unexpected applications.
"We started with a sensor that turned voice and movement into magic," says the voice-over narration on the video, layered over a montage of families using their Xbox systems. "But something amazing has happened," it continues, showing scenes of people playing "instruments" simply by making motions in the air with their arms. "The world is starting to imagine things we hadn't even thought of."
For now, developers will need to wait until July 15 to begin experimenting. However, according to the description on the Microsoft Store, the new Kinect for Windows "does not ship with any software" and is "intended for use with the Kinect for Windows SDK 2.0 ... and will operate only with applications developed for Kinect for Windows v2." So developers will need the right software to start tinkering.