Microsoft's Kinect hands-free games controller sold more than 1 million units in its first 10 days of release. At least a portion of those buyers were IT pros and other tech tinkerers, who snatched up the rectangular devices for a purpose other than virtual dance-offs and road-races: They wanted to experiment with the Kinect's 3D camera, which tracks 48 points of movement on a user's body, and then translates those movements to a digital avatar.
Within days, YouTube proliferated with videos of people using Kinect to draw 3-D shapes in midair, control small robots, and create animations.
Did Microsoft approve? "Microsoft does not condone the modification of its products," a company spokesperson told CNET Nov. 4. "Microsoft will continue to make advances in these types of safeguards and work closely with law enforcement and product safety groups to keep Kinect tamper-resistant."
As pointed out by commenters on eWEEK and other Websites, however, Microsoft also built Kinect with a USB connector instead of a proprietary Xbox port, suggesting the company wanted third-party developers to access the hardware. And a few days after Microsoft issued that warning statement to CNET, an executive suggested Kinect had, in fact, been open by design.
"What has happened is someone wrote an open-source driver for PCs that essentially opens the USB connection, which we didn't protect by design, and reads the inputs from the sensor," Alex Kipman, Microsoft's director of incubation for Xbox, said during a Nov. 19 interview with NPR. Earlier in the program, he had insisted: "The first thing to talk about is that Kinect was not actually hacked."
Microsoft and retailers hope that Black Friday sales of Kinect prove robust. If the controller proves a long-term hit, attracting casual gamers who previously gravitated towards the Nintendo Wii, it could potentially add years of life to the company's Xbox 360 franchise. Microsoft predicts it will sell 5 million Kinect units this quarter. The recent acquisition of Canesta suggests that the company will integrate 3D gesture technology into non-gaming devices at some point in the future.
Microsoft will also be looking to Black Friday sales of Windows Phone 7, which will likely provide a clearer picture of whether the company's new smartphone platform is succeeding as a viable alternative to the Apple iPhone and Google Android. Despite an early estimate from TheStreet.com that Windows Phone 7 had shipped 40,000 units on its first full day of U.S. release, a number provided by an unnamed source, Microsoft has been silent about hard numbers.
In the mobility sector, Microsoft's Windows 7 will find itself on an increasing number of tablets in 2011. Acer announced during a Nov. 23 press conference in New York City that it will produce a 10.1-inch tablet running Windows 7 in February of next year, preceding two tablets running Google Android in April.
That device might provide Microsoft a broader foray into the tablet market than the just-released HP Slate 500. Although Hewlett-Packard's Website suggests that Windows 7 tablet is on backorder due to "extraordinary demand," tech blog Engadget-citing a "trusted tipster with a contact inside HP"-suggested that HP planned only a limited-production run of a few thousand units.
Microsoft executives have been publicly bullish on the company's tablet prospects, but more reluctant to share actual strategy. During his Oct. 21 keynote talk at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2010 in Orlando, Fla., CEO Steve Ballmer dodged a pointed analyst question about his tablet roadmap by saying, "Devices ship all the time," and, "You will continue to see an evolution of devices ... there's a next generation of things that will come with the Intel processors."
That represented something of a pullback from earlier in October, where Ballmer reportedly told an audience at the London School of Economics: "You'll see new slates with Windows on them. You'll see them this Christmas."
Windows 7 tablets are a conspicuous absence from store shelves filling with the likes of the Apple iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab. This holiday season, though, Microsoft is betting more heavily on Kinect.