Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What's next for Kinect?

This past Monday, Microsoft's Craig Eisler formally announced that new Kinect for Windows hardware and accompanying software would be available from February 1 this year in 12 countries including the US at a suggested retail price of $249.

Microsoft has chosen a hardware-only business model for Kinect for Windows, which means that the company will not be charging for the software development kit (SDK) or the runtime system. These will be available free to developers and end users, respectively. Independent developers will not pay license fees for the Kinect for Windows software or the ongoing software updates, and new Kinect for Windows hardware will be supported by Microsoft.

Of particular interest to developers will be new firmware that enables the depth camera to see objects as close as 50 cm in front of the device without losing accuracy or precision, with graceful degradation down to 40 cm.

The $249 price tag includes a one-year warranty and access to ongoing software updates for both speech and human tracking. Later this year, the company will offer special academic pricing (planned at $149) for qualified educational users.

Addressing the reason why the pricing of the Kinect for Windows system was higher than the Kinect for Xbox system, Eisler said that Microsoft's ability to sell Kinect for Xbox 360 at its current price point is in large part subsidized by consumers buying a number of Kinect games, subscribing to Xbox Live, and making other transactions associated with the Xbox 360.

In addition, he said that the Kinect for Xbox 360 was built for and tested with the Xbox 360 console only, which is why it was not licensed for general commercial use, supported, or under warranty when used on any other platform.

The news will undoubtedly be greeted with some interest by system developers who may now consider using the Kinect system in a variety of manufacturing and retail applications.

Those who might still be somewhat skeptical should note that -- during a keynote speech at the CES show (Las Vegas, Nevada) -- Microsoft's Steve Ballmer announced that Siemens, Citi, Boeing, American Express, Unilever, United Health Group, Mattel, and Toyota are just some of the companies that Microsoft is already working with to develop Kinect-based systems.

Clearly, Microsoft has great hopes that the platform will be successful outside the gaming arena. And if you have an interesting idea of how you could use the Kinect system, then you might like to consider taking part in a Microsoft's initiative called the Kinect Accelerator incubation project, which is run by Microsoft BizSpark.

The project will give ten successful companies an investment of $20,000 each to develop a system around the Kinect on either Windows or Xbox 360. At the end of the program, each company will have an opportunity to present at an Investor Demo Day to angel investors, venture capitalists, Microsoft executives, and media and industry professionals.

Applications are being accepted through Jan. 25, 2012, so there's still time to make a proposal.

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