Microsoft's Kinect technology is a potential goldmine for mobile

Microsoft should leverage its Kinect technology to advance human-computer interfaces in next-gen PCs.

The consumer PC market has undergone a major transformation over the last few years, due in no small part to the rapid influx of relatively powerful and easy-to-use ultra-mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. I won’t be using any of that nonsensical "post-PC" talk here, because I believe these ultra-mobile devices are simply personal computers with radically different form factors than we’re used to, but make no mistake - the transformation of the PC market is very real and it is ongoing.

One of the many things the recent shift to ultra-mobile computing has taught us is that users easily adapt to new human-computer interfaces. Before the first iPhone launched, touch screens were little more than replacements for mouse cursors, but now, only a few years out, tapping, swiping, pinching and dragging seem almost like second-nature. In fact, I’d argue that touch computing as we know it today is more intuitive than the venerable keyboard and mouse. Disagree? Sit a 3-year-old in front of a standard laptop and one with a touchscreen and see which one they figure out how to use first.

With that said, despite the relative pummeling Microsoft has taken as of late, I believe the continually transforming PC market presents somewhat of an opportunity for Microsoft, if the company leverages its Kinect technology and expands it beyond the Xbox. To help make my point, I’d like you all to watch this video:

The Leap Motion Controller In-Action On Windows 8

The Leap Motion controller used in that video is about the size of a large thumb drive and will be shipping at the end of July for just under $80. If you’re not convinced that gesture controls - as a companion to traditional input methods - have a place in desktop computing after watching that video, the rest of this post will probably be a tough sell. But I can easily envision myself using the Leap Motion controller to zoom images and schematics on my large monitor, while I’m off to the side working on something else, or to advance pages in a presentation while I have my feet up listening in on a conference call. I could go on and on.

With that said, I’d like you all to imagine the transformative effect the gesture control capabilities of the Leap Motion controller would have, if it also offered face recognition, voice controls, and high-quality video capture. Well, that’s exactly what the Kinect does.

Now, I don’t think users want a clunky box sitting on their desk tethered to their PC with yet another bulky cable. If Microsoft, however, worked with monitor and notebook manufacturers to incorporate Kinect technology into future products, and did so at a reasonable cost, it could really change the way we use our PCs and breathe some new life into a stagnant PC market.

Since the Xbox One already runs the Window 8 kernel and the Kinect is already compatible with Windows, I have to believe the software engineering efforts for Microsoft would be minimal (relatively speaking). Monitor and PC manufacturers already incorporate cameras and microphones into their products as well. Of course, they would have to be swapped out for the devices used in the Kinect, but that’s absolutely doable too.

For some users, it’s hard to envision desktop computing with anything but a keyboard and mouse. They say things like, "Try stretching your arm out across your desk to touch a screen all day and see how your arm feels." Or they ask, "Who wants to sit there flailing their arms about to control their PC?" But that’s shortsighted. No one is saying touch, voice or gesture controls have to replace the keyboard and mouse altogether. They can simply complement traditional input methods. I, for one, would love to be able to walk into my home office, say "PC On," have my PC start, and then check traffic and weather, before even sitting down at my desk. That would all be easily possible with Kinect technology.

What say you?

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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