Having faced multiple hardware debacles ranging from Zune to Kin, Microsoft is out to prove naysayers false with its Xbox add-on Kinect, a motion sensor and voice recognition technology-based device that allows users to control games and movies with gestures and voice.
The controller-free gaming device Kinect will be available at stores from Thursday at $149.99 and if purchased with a 4GB Xbox 360 console, will cost $299.
Kinect uses four microphones and a depth camera, color motion camera and a distance sensor to track a user's presence in the room.
With a new feature that can track up to 48 parts of the body, Kinect brings a different experience into motion sensing gaming technology. Its competitor Nintendo Wii created games based on its remote tracking technology, which limited the scope of games to simulating those with handheld equipment like tennis, bowling, and boxing. Kinect opens a new range of games by allowing users to control games through body movements.
Microsoft is targeting casual, rather than serious gamers with Kinect and it is being marketed as a family entertainment device.
It will directly compete with Nintendo's Wii and Sony's Move controller in the motion-sensing gaming segment. It is also attempting to boost up sales of its Xbox 360 consoles which were released in 2005.
Kinect could provide a boost for Microsoft, whose traditional revenue model of selling licenses for Windows OS is under stress as tablets begin to cannibalize the PC market.
Windows has failed to be an OS of choice on tablets as it is considered too feature-rich for a tablet that utilizes minimal computing power. Also with Android Gingerbread, Honeycomb and Chrome OS destined to hit the tablet market, Microsoft has a lot more competition.
Microsoft recently launched its Windows Phone 7 to take on Android-based smartphones and iPhones. However, there are multiple OS like BlackBerry's QNX OS, HP's webOS, Nokia's MeeGo and Symbian which are vying for space.
Companies like Apple and Google have devised a strategy of creating an ecosystem of devices and apps around their OS to rule the market. Recently Apple launched Apple-TV, its iOS-based set-top box that streams online content and content from other devices like smartphones and PCs. Google launched its Google-TV which allows web search on TV.
In such an environment Xbox could be Microsoft's best bet, as it sits in a user's living room and uses TV as its interface. Xbox could possibly become Microsoft's next PC with all the storage space it makes available and it runs its own OS which is a modified version of Windows 2000 kernel.
Xbox also offers Microsoft a revenue model similar to Apple's, whereby it can have complete control over the apps and games coded for Xbox, and can thus take a walled-garden approach, a revenue model which it does not have on a PC.
Xbox currently allows streaming content from ESPN and Netflix which also gives it a presence in the converging world of TV and web - a segment targeted by Apple TV and Google TV. With cloud-computing Xbox capacity can be further augmented to stream and play music and movies. Also, other devices can be integrated with the Xbox console to stream content as well.
Kinect currently allows Xbox users to use hand motions to forward or rewind a movie or audio. That motion-sensing and voice technology can run other integrated devices controlled by Kinect.
With Xbox and Kinect Microsoft has hardware, around which it can create an ecosystem of apps and other devices, to rule the living room, a space for which Google and Apple are fighting.