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Audacious Fox

Mark Wilson, Fast Company:

“When we introduced Xbox One, we designed it to have the best experience with the Kinect. That was our goal with the Xbox One launch,” says [Matthew Lapsen, GM of Xbox Devices Marketing]. “And like all product launches, you monitor that over time, you learn and adjust.” In practice, the Xbox’s target demo cared more about a few extra polygons than some new paradigm in human-computer interaction. So Microsoft decided to invest its talents in other products.

But [Golan Levin, director of the Studio for Creative Inquiry at CMU], and other researchers like him, adored the Kinect for its forward-looking technologies. “The important thing about Kinect is it showed you could have an inexpensive depth camera. And it supported the development of thousands of applications that used depth sensing,” Levin says. He points out that it was literally Microsoft Kinect hardware that made it possible for a startup like Faceshift to exist. Built to perform extremely 3D tracking of the human face that’s suitable for biometric security, Apple acquired Faceshift to replace its thumbprint scans. And to take advantage of the technology, Apple essentially built a Kinect clone right into the iPhone X, having acquired PrimeSense in 2013, the Israeli company that developed 3D tracking technology that Microsoft licensed for the first Kinect.

The Kinect was a core part of Microsoft’s strategy to usher in the future of living room entertainment. Imagine logging in to your set-top box just by walking into the room, and then being able to navigate through everything from games to cable channels with only your voice. Now look behind you, because that’s what Microsoft delivered with the Xbox One.

But the vision of a reinvented home entertainment system was ahead of its time. Case in point, a headlining feature of the Xbox One was the ability to tie-in with your existing cable services; one box to rule them all. Today’s cord-cutting movement is still in early days, but if the urgency of my local cable provider’s mail advertisements are any indication, it’s not going well. The secondary issue was that the Kinect failed to prove itself essential as a gaming accessory, leading to Microsoft unbundling it from the Xbox One. Although this lowered the cost of entry, selling Xbox Ones without a Kinect relegated the sensor to an expensive (to causal gamers, at least) add-on.

Given its past, it is then impressive just how influential and integral the Kinect has been to today’s 3D mapping technologies. The Kinect succeeded in academia and R&D groups, arguably having more impact there then in the home, despite being cast aside by its target market. In an attempt to unify the living room, Microsoft found a sleeper hit in the lab.

Back to Mr. Wilson, who also reviewed the original Kinect, “I don’t believe it an exaggeration to say that Kinect has been the single most influential, or at least prescient, piece of hardware outside of the iPhone.”

A bold statement, but considering the now-yesterday’s Kinect lives on inside of tomorrow’s iPhone X, I’m inclined to agree.