Microsoft predicts sales of its Kinect hands-free controller will top 5 million units during the quarter, according to Bloomberg. The device, which allows Xbox players to control their onscreen avatars through body movement, will battle for marketplace dominance against both the Nintento Wii and Sony's Move controller.
The prediction of 5 million units represents an increase from the 3 million previously estimated by Microsoft. The Bloomberg article paraphrases Don Mattrick, president of Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business, as basing the revised figure on a combination of retail sales, audience awareness and pre-orders.
Formerly code-named Project Natal, Kinect utilizes a 3D camera to track 48 points of movement on the user's body, and then translate those movements to the digital avatar. It represents Microsoft's attempt to extend the lifecycle of the five-year-old Xbox 360, and expand that console's audience to more casual gamers.
Kinect also offers Microsoft the chance for a big win in the consumer space, where the company's track record has been mixed of late. Although the Xbox franchise has begun to generate revenue after years of losses, other products have either failed to attract much attention or outright crash-and-burned. The Zune HD, a portable media player whose design was praised by critics, failed to gain much traction against Apple's dominant iPod line. And the Kin phones, meant to appeal to social networking-happy hipsters, failed miserably soon after their release earlier this year.
That mixed record helped spark a massive reorganization of Microsoft's Entertainment and Devices Division in May, one that saw the departures of both unit president Robbie Bach and J Allard, its senior vice president of design and development.
"This has been a vampire division since its inception. A vampire division is one that lives off the value created by the rest of the company and, from a corporate perspective, does more damage than good," Rob Enderle, principal analyst of the Enderle Group, told eWEEK in May. "Its profit, which wasn't much, was massively offset by the economic cost it caused to the corporation and needed to be rethought."
In the wake of that purging, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer named Mattrick as head of the company's Interactive Entertainment Business, as well as Andy Lees as president of Mobile Communications Business.
Microsoft also likely intends to use 3D sensing technology for products beyond gaming. Recently, it agreed to acquire Canesta, a maker of 3D-image sensor chips and camera modules that can be embedded into a variety of consumer products, including laptops and vehicle dashboards. That technology allows for the creation of gesture-driven natural user interfaces, similar in many ways to Kinect.
"There is little question that within the next decade we will see natural user interfaces become common for input across all devices," Jim Spare, president and CEO of Canesta, wrote in an Oct. 29 statement posted on the startup's Website. "With Microsoft's breadth of scope from enterprise to consumer products, market presence, and commitment to NUI, we are confident that our technology will see wide adoption across many applications that embody the full potential of the technology."
If Microsoft intends to extend that 3D technology to a wider variety of products, then the hundreds of millions reportedly being poured into Kinect's marketing-which the company hopes will drive those 5 million sales this quarter-will double as an investment in the future, by introducing consumers to the idea of gesture control in a user-friendly way.