Microsoft may be struggling against Apple and Google to win the hearts of consumers, but the company can take pride in at least one achievement: Kinect, its hands-free controller for the Xbox 360, is now the world's fastest-selling consumer electronics device.
That record was confirmed by Guinness World Records, which knows a thing or two about these matters. Kinect has apparently sold an average of 133,333 units per day, outpacing other white-hot consumer gadgets such as the iPhone and iPad.
Microsoft claimed March 9 that some 10 million Kinect units had sold worldwide in the four months since its launch.
For Microsoft, Kinect represents a chance to penetrate the casual-gamer market that made the Nintendo Wii such an enormous success, as well as increased the lifespan of its 5-year-old Xbox 360 console.
Soon after the controller's release in late 2010, reports emerged of tech pros modifying the Kinect's 3D camera-capable of tracking 48 points of movement on a user's body, and then translating those movements to a digital avatar-for use in non-gaming projects. Videos started cropping up on YouTube, demonstrating what the next-generation hardware could do, aside from virtual fencing and dancing: painting 3D images in mid-air, say, or tethering Kinect's motion controls to an iRobot.
After an initial period of public disapproval, Microsoft seemed to have second thoughts about those Kinect modifications. Alex Kipman, Microsoft's director of incubation for Xbox, claimed in a Nov. 19 interview with NPR that Kinect had been left open by design.
Kinect represents just one facet of Microsoft's increasingly aggressive push into natural user interfaces. For some time, the company has planned to introduce touch, gesture and voice-activated technology into a wide range of products, including video games and vehicle-dashboard systems. Voice is a prime component of that strategy, although the assets acquired from Canesta, a maker of 3D-image sensor chips and embeddable camera modules, will also play a key role.
Kinect's success comes as Microsoft struggles to find its footing in some other consumer areas, notably mobile. Despite the massive advertising push behind the recently launched Windows Phone 7, Microsoft's share of the smartphone platform market dipped 1.7 percentage points between October 2010 and January 2011, from 9.7 percent to 8.0 percent-trailing competitors such as RIM, Google Android and Apple's iPhone. However, Microsoft executives have also acknowledged that it could be some time before its newest smartphone platform sees significant consumer uptake.