Digital A-List

Ad Age Digital A-List: Kinect

Microsoft Invited Gamers to Drop Controller and Get off the Couch, but Interface Has Potential Use for Medicine, Education, Advertising and Beyond

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Microsoft Kinect's advertising lure of "You are the controller" appealed to many remote-weary households this holiday. About 8 million of them, in fact, in just the first 60 days after its November launch.

Of course, a $500 million launch budget with co-marketing brand partners such as Pepsi, Kellogg, and Burger King didn't hurt either. But all said, it wasn't the marketing blast that propelled Kinect to the Digital A List (Microsoft is no stranger to massive product launches; evidence the reported $500 million launch marketing budgets also for Vista and Windows Phone 7) but the personality of the product, along with its positioning and potential.

Kinect took the idea of motion-sensitive gaming, launched successfully by Nintendo with its Wii console in 2007 and advanced it, not only by adding more gaming "wow" but also by cultivating the potential to go beyond gaming. Reviewers couldn't hide their delight at the ability to control game play with simple gestures and voice commands.

And that "natural user interface," as Microsoft calls it, has been hacked and hailed for its possible uses beyond the gaming world, from medicine and education to advertising and e-commerce. Coming this spring is a Microsoft-sanctioned Kinect for Windows software developers' kit for noncommercial use, allowing "academic researchers and enthusiasts" inside access to Kinect technology. (A commercial version is in the works for an undecided later release.)

As Steve Clayton, editor at Microsoft's Next at Microsoft blog, wrote: "The possibilities are endless. Natural and intuitive technologies such as Kinect can be more than just a great platform for gaming and entertainment. They open up enormous opportunities across a wide variety of scenarios, including addressing societal issues."

But just as important -- for now, anyway -- is that Kinect has revitalized the aging five-year-old Xbox 360 console. Not only does it give Xbox 360 owners an innovative way to play, but it gives potential gamers interested in the hands-free technology a reason to buy Xbox 360 consoles. Xbox 360 was the only console to see an increase in sales for year-over-year sales in December 2010, and it was a hefty 42%, according to Microsoft.

Kinect's 8 million in consoles sold during the holidays is not only 5 million more than Microsoft's initial prediction of 3 million, but also comparatively brisk when looking at other top-selling tech products' first 60 days, such as Apple's iPad (2 million) and iPhone (less than 1 million), and the motion-sensitive predecessor Wii, which sold more than 3 million during that time.

Of course, those are a bit apples-to-oranges comparisons -- Kinect is an accessory, less expensive and not a brand-new product category with breakthrough hurdles to overcome like the others. However, it is still an undeniable out-of-the-gate success.

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