Microsoft is claiming sales of 2.5 million Kinect hands-free controllers, making the Xbox 360 accessory one of the first reported successes of the holiday shopping season.
"With sales already exceeding two and a half million units in just 25 days, we are on pace to reach our forecast of 5 million units sold to consumers this holiday," Don Mattrick, Microsoft's president of Interactive Entertainment Business, wrote in a Nov. 29 statement posted on Microsoft's corporate Website.
Formerly code-named "Project Natal," Kinect utilizes a 3D camera to track 48 points of movement on the user's body, and then translates those movements to a digital avatar. Microsoft hopes Kinect will extend the life cycle of the 5-year-old Xbox 360.
Kinect aims squarely at the casual-gaming market once dominated by the Nintendo Wii, which recently fell to third place after years of outpacing the Xbox and Sony PlayStation franchises. Nintendo remains competitive, reporting sales of 600,000 Wii units during the Black Friday shopping week, but some analysts nonetheless see the console's best days as behind it.
"The success of the Wii has been bound in large part to people who enjoyed it as a fad and have now moved on," Marc Jackson, chief executive of video-game finance and consulting firm Seahorn Capital, told the Los Angeles Times Nov. 30.
While targeted primarily at casual gamers, Kinect also found an unexpected audience among tech pros and tinkerers, who became interested in the device's 3D camera. Whether painting 3D images in midair or tethering the motion controls to an iRobot, it seemed that the modified Kinect offered a variety of non-gaming uses.
After some initial noises of disapproval, Microsoft seemingly moved to embrace the Kinect tinkering. "The first thing to talk about is that Kinect was not actually hacked," Alex Kipman, Microsoft's director of incubation for Xbox, insisted during a Nov. 19 interview with NPR. "Hacking would mean that someone got to our algorithms that sit on the side of the Xbox and was able to actually use them, which hasn't happened."
What happened, he said, "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."
If Kinect continues its accelerated sales run, Microsoft could seek to leverage 3D-gesture technology toward other devices and applications. The company has already acquired Canesta, a maker of 3D-image sensor chips and camera modules that can be embedded in a variety of consumer products, including laptops and vehicle dashboards.