I believe we can all agree that Microsoft stopped being cool a while ago. I finally broke down and let my family buy one of those brilliantly designed and expensive toys from Apple. "The iPad is cool," my teenagers say. I tell my teenagers, "Visual Studio is cool." Then they ask me, "What's a Visual Studio?" I'm convinced that Apple has achieved a state of brand identity and customer loyalty that if they painted a rock white and called it the iRock and sold it for $100, the company would sell 20 million of them in two weeks. Kudos to Apple for its brand identity and customer loyalty success.
But I'm here to tell you about something from Microsoft that's cool: Kinect for Windows. And it’s awesome. The Kinect for Windows solutions that are surfacing right now are incredibly cool—you can perform an Internet search to see the different solutions that are popping up. And Kinect for Windows is remarkably easy to use to build .NET applications. And it has little or no competition and won't experience any serious competition for a long time. And speculations on the possibilities of this technology are Minority Report–level amazing.
Do I need to explain what a Kinect is? I mean, the Xbox Kinect is in the Guinness World Records for being the world's fastest-selling consumer electronics device—selling faster than any product from Apple. If you're a developer, then Kinect for Windows is even cooler. Simply put, Kinect for Windows lets you provide gesture- and voice-controlled interfaces to your .NET applications.
I can tell you firsthand that I'm enamored with Kinect for Windows. Both of my companies have been building Kinect solutions for over two years now. My companies started developing solutions for the Xbox Kinect and now for the new Kinect for Windows. Some of the production apps, demos, and proofs of concepts that these brilliant folks are building right now are simply amazing. Our projects range from physical therapy applications to voice and gesture recognition in interactive kiosk applications to a "touchless" operating room, which Figure 1 shows being demoed.
Whenever I demo or talk about Kinect apps, I've seen such a groundswell in excitement from the developer community, which generates so many more great ideas. I've never seen this reaction with other products, and I've been working with Microsoft technologies for over 20 years.
Getting started in building gesture- and voice-driven .NET apps with Kinect for Windows is amazingly easy because Microsoft did a darn good job developing the Kinect for Windows SDK. The Kinect for Windows SDK is well-documented and has a sample browser app with several great Kinect-enabled apps. And yes, Microsoft provides the source code to those applications so you can see how they work.
The Kinect for Windows SDK also ships with a few tools that help in the development process. As you can imagine, source code and developer guidance is appearing like wildfire on the Internet. .NET Rock!'s Carl Franklin built a nifty gesture recorder application that helps in the development process. Plenty of rumors have circulated that an even more robust version of the Kinect for Windows SDK is coming soon.
The Kinect Future
When something as cool as Kinect for Windows hits the market and lives under a new super-secret Windows team, rumors and speculations about its future flourish. But there are some conclusions that aren't too much of a stretch. First, the only real hardware difference between the Kinect for Xbox and Kinect for Windows is that the Windows Kinect device has a macro mode for up-close gesture recognition. Because you can't perform gestures up close and the Kinect recognizes your voice from 20 feet away, it's safe to speculate this up-close mode could be used for facial recognition or authentication. In other words, this mode could potentially recognize you sitting in front of the computer and authenticate you.
Currently, the Internet rumors are running rampant about a leak from Microsoft about Kinect for the new Windows Phone 8 (code-named Apollo) that hasn't even been announced in any way, shape, or form. Kinect in small form factors?! One might speculate that Microsoft, which has a really large R&D budget to spend, is working on Kinect for Windows Phone 8 and a number of Kinect-related projects. Visit the Microsoft Research website, search for projects on the Kinect, and then draw your own conclusions and speculations about Microsoft's future direction. Here's my speculation: The Star Trek holodeck within a decade. My teenagers ask me, "What's a holodeck?"