Microsoft Xbox Kinect Voice Control Raises Bar for Google, Apple

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2011-12-11

Microsoft Xbox Kinect Voice Control Raises Bar for Google, Apple


When it comes to consumer electronics technology and Web services, it's not often that we can say Microsoft has beat Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) and Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) to something. But with Microsoft's new Xbox 360 upgrade, well, the software giant may have beaten its rivals.

The new Xbox 360 aims to deliver users games, movies, TV shows, music and sports in one place through users' TVs . Microsoft has added several new content partners and applications, including Netflix, YouTube, ESPN on Xbox Live and Hulu Plus.

What makes this upgrade special is that it features a voice-activated Kinect system, which has been integrated with Bing search software. This enables users to speak to the Kinect console to search for games, movies, TV shows and music. Bing on Xbox voice search will initially be available in English in the United States, Canada and the U.K. for Zune video, Xbox LIVE Marketplace and select content partners.

Users may also search Xbox 360 with Kinect content with hand gestures, or control what to watch or hear using Windows Phones as remote controls. The upgrade will help Microsoft surpass Google's current iteration of its own Google TV Web and channel surfing software, as well as Apple's own hobbyist TV product.

The software, which was supposed to roll out last week but will now be delivered in stages due to some technical difficulties, has Forrester Research analyst James McQuivey proclaiming it is the future of TV.

"This is now the benchmark against which all other living-room initiatives should be compared, from cable or satellite set top boxes to Apple's widely rumored TV to the 3.0 version of Google TV that Google will have to start programming as soon as they see this,"  McQuivey wrote in his corporate blog.

"With more than 57 million people worldwide already sitting on a box that's about to be upgraded for free-and with what I estimate to be 15 million Kinect cameras in some of those homes-Microsoft has not only built the right experience, it has ensured that it will spread quickly and with devastating effect."

The voice activation builds a new bridge between content and the viewer, he added. What this effectively does is put added pressure on Google and Apple to bring their interactive TV platforms up to par. Unfortunately for those rivals, such functionality won't appear until next year.

Apple, Google Have to Catch Up to Microsoft

Before he succumbed to cancer in October,  Apple founder Steve Jobs told his biographer Walter Isaccson that he had "finally cracked" the Internet television challenge.

High-tech analysts assumed Jobs was referring in part to the inclusion of the company's Siri intelligent personal assistant technology into a full TV set enabled by the Web.

"We also believe Apple could use Siri, its voice recognition, personal assistant technology to bolster its TV offering and simplify the chore of inputting information like show titles, or actor names, into a TV (typically with a remote)," noted Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster.

However, Munster and his peers aren't modeling the new Apple TV to arrive until some time next year. Meanwhile, Google just launched its own Google TV 2.0 upgrade, refreshing its Android-based platform with its Honeycomb software and adding access to the company's Android Market application store. However, no voice activation is imminent for Google TV, a Google spokesperson confirmed.

"While we think voice integration will be powerful addition to the Google TV interface, we have nothing to announce at this time," a Google spokesperson told eWEEK, which believes the search engine provider will use its vast voice search expertise to add voice search to the Google TV service next year.

That means Microsoft has several months with which to seed the consumer experience with voice-activated Kinect. Some analysts don't believe this matters much. Gartner analyst Van Baker remains unimpressed by the inclusion of voice search to any of these platforms.

"I am still skeptical about voice control of the television due to the potential conflict from multiple voices in the room and ambient noise in the room," Baker told eWEEK.

"My suspicion is that any solution that was going to be a good one would have to include a profiling of the room at a given point in time and that is not something that consumers are likely to put up with. One of the reasons that Siri works reasonably well is that the consumer is speaking directly into the microphone and that is not likely to be feasible with a television as it would require another 'remote' in the living room. We will see what happens."

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