For years now, I've been making what some would call a bold prediction: that gesture would become just as prevalent as touch when using a computer within a decade. I say it on stage all the time while demonstrating the power of gesture technology. There's sound evidence of the evolution of the Natural User Interface (NUI) all around us that isn't just in gaming.
In the hospitality, transportation, retail and healthcare industries we're seeing more and more gesture-driven user experiences. Additionally, there's an increasing concern about touchscreens in public places and the bacteria that these screens can harbor. Legislation is already being created to ban touchscreens in public places because of this concern. To me, it just seems logical that as 3D cameras such as the Kinect for Windows device and others get better and better in terms of hardware capability and the software that runs them, they will become more prevalent. Consequently, it seems like the norms in which we use software will include gesture and voice recognition, and these capabilities will no longer be a novel thing in new computers. Makes sense, right?
Well, my bold prediction seemingly took a blow this week. Microsoft announced a more inexpensive Xbox One; the announcement and details are written on the news page of Xbox Wire. But, if you're not interested in reading the gory details, it's summed up pretty well with this statement:
"…beginning on June 9th, in all markets where Xbox One is sold, we will offer Xbox One starting at $399*. This is a new console option that does not include Kinect."
Now, the reasons for doing changing tactics are obvious from a pure business perspective. The Xbox One is significantly more expensive than its worthy competitor, the Sony PS4. Microsoft can offer an Xbox One at the same or lower cost as the PS4 by removing the cost of the Kinect device from the Xbox One bundle. Consumer behavior dictates that matching or undercutting competitor pricing is frequently a better tactic than producing a superior product. Unfortunately, that's the way it is; the typical consumer just doesn't make the best decisions.
The problem with this decision by Microsoft, however, is complex. Firstly, Microsoft has created a significant brand identity for the Xbox One that basically says that the Xbox One has a better user experience because of Kinect. If someone were to call them on that now, what would Microsoft say? Because of this decision, it's almost as though the message from Microsoft is that the Kinect is somewhat useless, or that you really don't need a Kinect to have a good Xbox One experience. This implication definitely hurts evangelists such as me who are showing all the awesome use cases for gesture-driven interfaces. According to Microsoft, 80 percent of Xbox One owners make use of Kinect regularly, so if you look at the decision from that perspective, it looks like a bad decision. It's things like this that make the decision to sell Xbox without the Kinect so complex. My guess—and it's only a guess—is that after market share is captured by a significant populous with this new Kinect-less device, Microsoft would offer a low cost Kinect device to these folks who bought a Kinect-less Xbox One at a later time.
There's an upside to all of this; by eliminating the Kinect from games on Xbox One, it could actually reinvigorate focus on Kinect for Windows solutions outside of gaming and create new opportunities. Solutions that save or enrich lives in healthcare and life sciences; solutions that could provide better retail experiences. The creative use case possibilities for Kinect are endless. That's what I love about the device; it facilitates the most creative thinking away from the software developer's day job of mainly CRUD applications.
Only time will tell if this was a good or bad decision from Microsoft.