Microsoft Xbox Kinect Voice Control Raises Bar for Google, Apple

Microsoft's new voice-activated Kinect with Bing search integration beats voice-enabled TV services from Apple and Google to the punch.

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.