Xbox is due for a refresh this year and it's a good time to write my wishlist. I’ve been accused of being a Windows fanboy, which I’m not. I’ve also been accused of being a Windows Phone fanboy. No again. But I’ve never been accused of being an Xbox fanboy, which I absolutely am.
With the Xbox, Microsoft has a stellar platform on its hands. The console has gone from a third place alsoran to a major player in the console wars: a strategy Microsoft desperately needs to adapt to Windows Phone, but that’s a different article. As the world of computing shifts to mobile, so is gaming, allowing companies like Apple to get into the business. What do vendors that build consoles need to do to adjust their strategy? I can’t say much for Sony or Nintendo because I don’t use those platforms anymore. For Microsoft, here’s my wish list for the next Xbox platform update that I think will allow it to remain a major gaming industry player despite the shift to mobile computing.
Yesterday at the Engadget Expand conference Microsoft's Bob Heddle, the director of Kinect for Windows, announced a new software developer kit is coming very soon -- tomorrow, in fact. Version 1.7 will be made available March 18, and Heddle promised it will be the "most significant update to the SDK since we released the first version a little over a year ago".
Version 1.7 promises new interaction, including push-to-press buttons, grip-to-pan capabilities, and support for smart ways to accommodate multiple users and two-person interactions. Heddle explains that "we wanted to save businesses and developers hours of development time while making it easier for them to create gesture-based experiences that are highly consistent from application to application and utterly simple for end users".
It took only one week for San Francisco motion control startup Leap Motion to attract 26,000 developers in 143 countries to its pocket-sized 3D space motion controller for PCs. Now, that number has climbed to more than 40,000.
Today, the company provided some big announcements on the progress of Leap Motion, including a new exclusive game demo, an updated SDK, and a round of 10,000 more free developer units.
Microsoft has rolled out a major update to the Kinect motion control runtime and SDK for Windows machines on Monday, unlocking new data tools for developers and allowing Kinect to perform in lower light and at longer ranges.
Perhaps the biggest part of the SDK update on Monday is its vastly broadened availability. The Kinect SDK now features Windows 8 compatibility, which gives developers the ability to make apps for the soon-to-be-released next version of Windows. It also features compatibility with Microsoft Hyper-V, VMWare and Parallels, letting Kinect control virtual machines as well. Finally, the Kinect for Windows SDK is now available in the largest market in the world, China.
Microsoft's plan to only let a few key developers into the Windows Phone 8 Preview Program SDK, understandably upsets many developers. For a plaform with only about 3 percent market share, Microsoft needs all the supporters it can get, or so the presumption goes.
Why lock out most of the people needed to develop apps that take advantage of your new platform? I think there could be two possible answers: (1) a new marketplace strategy based on the quality of apps, and (2) major unannounced features.
If you live in the right region, the game controller now costs $109.99 US, Microsoft revealed today. Say, didn't Kinect sell for $149.99 yesterday? That's a helluva discount out of season.
Microsoft's Larry Hyrb describes this as a "permanently reduced price". Well, it is for some -- North America, Latin America and Asia Pacific now and Australia and New Zealand on October 4. Europe, Middle East, Asia and Japan won't see permanent price cuts.
Gestures are where it's at these days, with the Kinect add-on for Xbox 360 and the motion controls of the Wii allowing for direct interaction with games and other software. Even mobile devices such as Android and iOS phones and tablets are making greater use of gestures rather than just for menus and buttons. Touchscreen displays for Mac and PC make gesture interfaces possible in Windows and OS X, but Flutter enables you to use your webcam to interact using gestures.
As you can tell from the version number (currently 0.1.185), this is a very early version of the software and things are a little limited at the moment – but that’s not to say that it is not still worth taking a look at. At the moment, Flutter can be used to control your media player, enabling you to use basic hand gestures to start and pause music or video playback.
In May, San Francisco startup Leap Motion announced Leap, its pocket-sized 3D sensor designed to bring Kinect-like controls to notebook computers. At the time, the company said there would be "thousands" of free developer kits for interested developers who wanted to participate in the developer program. Today, the company has come forward with some numbers to show how staggeringly high interest is in the little peripheral.
Twenty six thousand (26,000) developers in 143 countries and all 50 U.S. states registered to be in Leap's developer program. A remarkable 15,000 of those requests came in the first week of the program's existence.
Cue up the rumormill for anyone's guess what Microsoft will announce at 6:30 pm EDT on Monday. I'll throw out one, inspired by software developer Robert Johnson, who occasionally writes for BetaNews (and we wish it was more often).
"If Mashable is correct and Microsoft really is gonna announce a self-manufactured tablet then it could possibly be a further refinement of the laptop that was rumored a few months ago", he speculated. "Remember how there were reports of people who had seen a device made by Asus that contained Kinect cameras?" Yes I do, and replied: "Kinect mobile has limited applications, but they're big for key enterprise markets, such as healthcare. Otherwise what have you got? 'Clap on, clap off' for PCs".
San Francisco startup Leap Motion today unveiled its killer product, a small USB-attached three dimensional sensor (a la Microsoft's Kinect) which is meant for use in small spaces on small screens. The product is called Leap and is available in limited quantities for just $70.
Leap creates an eight cubic foot interaction space, and Leap Motion says the tiny device is "200 times more sensitive than existing touch-free products and technologies." This is appealing because the current motion control interface of choice, Microsoft's Kinect, is a "living room" experiences which requires users to stand anywhere from six to eight feet away from the sensor. Leap can sit right on your desk and utilize only the space in front of you and around your PC if you so choose. This is one of the next big frontiers in interface design, as Belgium's Softkinetic announced a similar innovation at CES earlier this year, and notebook PC makers are looking to integrate similar features with stereoscopic webcams.
In late November, I opined why Microsoft is in trouble. A couple of conversations I had over Thanksgiving led me to believe there are tons of misconceptions about Microsoft consumer products, such as: Windows Phone is dead and Windows PCs are nothing but junk.
But I think the company can correct these problems by aggressively taking action in several key areas: Windows 8 hardware requirements, Windows 8 and Windows Phone marketing, synchronization and natural user interfaces.
Microsoft on Wednesday launched its Kinect for Windows commercial program, allowing businesses to build for-profit applications and solutions using Microsoft's popular free-space interface.
More than 300 companies are already developing their own solutions using Kinect for Windows, Microsoft said on Wednesday, including United Health Group, American Express, Mattel, Telefonica, and Toyota. So we expect to see a whole family of new Kinect applications hitting the market in the next year for health care, education, and industry.
Steve Ballmer won't get a Christmas card from me this year. Or next.
Microsoft's assault on BetaNews' Xbox 360 dashboard review continues. I awoke to find a take-down notice waiting in Gmail, for photos posted with the review. A few hours ago, our reviewer, a BetaNews reader, informed me that Microsoft had kicked him out of the Preview program for violating the NDA. But did he?
Here's something I don't wake up to everyday -- actually never. At 7:35 am ET, BetaNews received an email demanding that we remove photos from the excellent Xbox 360 review penned by one of our readers: "Microsoft requests that you remove the photos, but not the text, of this story, because the images are copyrighted and were released in violation of an NDA".
BetaNews is investigating the matter, and I will appropriately respond. BetaNews respects copyrights and non-disclosure agreements. It's one reason you see so few rumor stories and supporting photos here. We assume that the writer took the photos and that he participated in the Xbox 360 dashboard preview program. Reviewers take photos all the time while under NDA or embargo and publish them after the restriction lifts. BetaNews posted the review (and accompanying photos) after Microsoft publicly announced and released the autumn 2011 Xbox 360 updates. We assume for now that this is a misunderstanding.