Kinect is the biggest, most important thing to happen to gaming consoles.
That's true of this generation, and - perhaps five, ten years from now - it'll be true of all consoles ever made. However, we'll have to wait for it to truly bear fruit, as it will take years and several iterations.
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For now, we'll have to be content to catch glimpses of its potential as we pretend to hold steering wheels or thrash around during ill-advised family sessions of Kinect Sports 2.
Kinect's announcement at E3 2009 raised eyebrows, its timing leading many to unfairly accuse Microsoft of chasing the lucrative casual dollar so expertly harvested by Nintendo with the Wii.
This was further reinforced when Sony announced Move - their own motion-tracking peripheral - during the same week. While Move is a more advanced piece of tech than the Wii-mote, both these devices are little more than traditional controllers dressed up with new tech. The potential for Kinect, meanwhile, is huge.
The real beauty behind Kinect's tech is that it tracks an entire space with no additional controller. Being able to pick out specific objects (people) and track their motion is what makes the difference - not because it's more accurate than a Move or a Wii-mote, but because it frees up the possibility for realistically augmenting that space.
With what? Games. Interfaces. Photos. Movies. Anything. Microsoft are already researching what they call Omnitouch, a system that can project touch-screens onto any surface. Combined with motion tracking this could be used to create any kind of touch-sensitive input.
Example: Omnitouch could project a keyboard onto your coffee table and Kinect could track what you type. More outlandish example: Omnitouch could project your entire inventory in Elder Scrolls VI onto your table, allowing you to swap between spells, weapons and potions without ever hitting the pause screen.
Now, throw in Kinect's voice recognition software. Not only will you be able to interact with games via projected touch-screens, you'll also be able to issue proper voice commands. Finally, we can add another of Microsoft's in-progress tech: Holodesk. This allows you to manipulate virtual 3D objects (balls and cubes at the moment) with your own hands. Integrated into future versions of Kinect, this could be huge.
So, let's summarise all this tech and apply it to a single game; Madden, let's say. You'll be able to start by looking at the plays menu, which could be projected onto your coffee table or wall. You can either touch the menu to select, or call the play yourself by shouting it.
Then, as the Quarterback, you'll call for the ball, which will be flicked into your hand and become a virtual object. Next, you actually throw the ball to your wide-receiver before you get sacked. That's a basic example, but it highlights the potential.
Now, obviously there are barriers between us and this Star Trek future. The technology, as a single unit, doesn't exist yet. It's currently in pieces: very expensive pieces, but crucially they're all pioneered by Microsoft.
It won't just be used in Xbox either. It'll work across PCs and, eventually, mobile devices like Windows phones and tablets, uniting all the company's technology and allowing software and games to work across all platforms.
We've seen it before. Currently Kinect is the equivalent of the original iPod - a bulky MP3 player with plenty of mass-market appeal but limited uses. However, look at the iPod, or iPhone, now. It's changed the way we think about personal entertainment and is now set to become no more than an app or icon on the devices that have superseded it.
Kinect will go the same way. It'll be a core feature of the next Xbox, which Microsoft are crafting to be an all-in-one media hub. And - when Microsoft evolve that into the next, next Xbox - Kinect functionality will be so integral, it won't even be a physical product: it'll be part of that device's DNA.
Remember that when you're watching your Auntie body-popping to Dance Central 2 this Christmas...
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