After watching the press conferences from Microsoft and EA, the Kinect thingie sparked a lot of thought. Microsoft must have put a lot of weight behind their latest product to have top-of-the-line publishers release 15 titles at launch for Kinect, but has Microsoft ironed all the rough edges?
First thing that came to mind: what happened to Sony's Eye Toy? People from Sony acknowledged in last year's E3 Sony press conference that there's only so much you can do without a controller; you need buttons (5:40 in the linked video). Most intriguing: why didn't Sony itself pursue a market lead with the Eye Toy device? If there's one good thing about learning from others' mistakes is that it's really cheap –especially when the alternative is taken into account. Has Microsoft learnt its lesson, or will that be yet another lesson to be learnt in blood?
Betting on underdeveloped technologies such as voice control only adds to my questioning of how much thought has MS put behind this product. Voice control is an industry flop, as a recent article brilliantly explained. I remember mobile phones sporting voice dialling; you told the phone your contact's name, and it dialled their number. Do you actually know anyone who's using voice dialling nowadays?
Voice control is in for the sake of comfort, MS says. If there's one thing I know about comfort is that pressing one button with a slight thumb movement is certainly more comfortable than waving your arms over your head. Granted, using your arms comes in handy because (ideally) you have two of them around all the time. But if you are going to have a controller somewhere nearby all the same, chances are you will end up using your controller. Besides, I wouldn't say Kinect is the same as a touch screen; with touch screen devices, the effort required to press a button or touch the nearby screen is the same –but the touch screen adds immediacy and ease of use. Kinect is more like using an invisible mouse device: you need to rely on a machine to translate your arm's movements into input data, and there will always be something lost in translation –something users must learn to make up for, and something touch screen devices don't have to worry about.
Then there's the hardware side of things. Can the Xbox 360 handle Kinect's input fast enough as to allow players to run, say, a 60 fps racing title or action arcade game like Devil May Cry? According to Gizmodo, there's no processing power inside the Kinect, meaning the bulk of the processing must be done from within the Xbox 360. For what I've seen both at MS and EA's conferences, there is a noticeable lag while using the device –check EA's workout game (it's the guy to the right of your screen doing the boxing bag simulation).
Talking about hardware. Just how affordable will this peripheral be? Again, MS can take a page from Sony's PS3 book regarding its launch price and the head start it gave MS and Nintendo. With a small customer base, chances are developers won't be investing in the product, which in turn will have consumers shying away from MS latest toy. Will Kinect have a lasting appeal for both developers and consumers?
So I went to MS press conference looking for some answers, and seemingly I got even more questions. What measures is MS taking to avoid the same mistakes the competition did? Is MS willing to go the extra mile required to succeed betting on technologies already left behind? Has MS created a product that satisfies consumers' needs, or is MS trying to create new needs? Did the Redmond giant do its homework regarding the consoles market current state of affairs, or is MS taking a more "despotic" approach: it decides what's good for its customers but without its customers -a sound recipe for disaster? We'll find out soon enough.