Sunday, June 20, 2010

Looking Back: Kinect was hinted at D5 Conference

Kinect sensor device
Remember when Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were interviewed together at the same stage? Such a historic event, called the D5 Conference, happened in 2005 and one of the things they talked about is the three-dimensional (3D) interface for personal computers (PC) and post-PC devices. In particular, there are certain hints that Microsoft founder Bill Gates mentioned in the discussion that certainly points to the Kinect for Xbox 360.

Kinect, for those who do not know, is a peripheral/add-on/accessory to Microsoft's gaming platform, Xbox 360. Initially dubbed Project Natal, Kinect allows user interaction with the video game platform without using traditional controllers for gaming and entertainment experience. Instead it utilizes a natural user interface that uses body gestures, spoken commands, and object recognition. The product was first publicly introduced on June 2009 and is set for a November 2010 release date.

So what does Kinect have to do with a discussion that happened about five years ago? Well you need to know what was actually discussed in the interview, so watch the video below. Alternately, there's also a partial transcript that I've taken from AllThingsD website.


(Walter Mossberg) Walt : In the offing in the next four or five years, is it possible there’s a new paradigm for organizing the user interface of the personal computer?

Bill: One of the things that’s been anticipated for a long time is when 3D comes into that interface. And there was a lot of experimentation, sites on the Internet where you’d kind of walk around and meet people, but in fact, the richness, the speed, it just didn’t sustain itself. Now we’re starting to see with some of the mapping stuff, a few of the sites, that the quality of that graphics, the tools and things, are getting to the point where 3D can really come in. So I’d definitely say that when you go to a store, bookstore, you’ll be able to see the books lined up, you know, the way you might be interested in or lined up the way they are in the real store.

So 3D is a way of organizing things, particularly as we’re getting much more media information on the computer, a lot more choices, a lot more navigation than we’ve ever had before. And we can take that into this communications world where the PC is playing a much more central role, kind of taking over what was the PBX, sort of one of the last mainframes in the business environment. That will be a big change that will come to it. And as we get natural input, that will cause a change. … Software is doing vision and so, you know, imagine a game machine where you’re just going to pick up the bat and swing it or the tennis racket and swing it.

Walt: We have one of those.

(Kara Swisher) Kara: Yeah. Wii.

Bill: No, that’s not it. You can’t pick up your tennis racket. And swing it.

Bill: You can’t sit there with your friends and do those natural things. That’s a 3D positional device. This is video recognition.

Kara: Steve? I know you’re working on something, it’s going to be beautiful, we’ll see it soon.

Walt: And you can’t talk about it.

Steve: Yeah.

Walt: Bill discusses all his secret plans. You don’t discuss any.

Steve: I know, it’s not fair. But I think the question is a very simple one, which is how much of the really revolutionary things people are going to do in the next five years are done on the PCs or how much of it is really focused on the post-PC devices. And there’s a real temptation to focus it on the post-PC devices because it’s a clean slate and because they’re more focused devices and because, you know, they don’t have the legacy of these zillions of apps that have to run in zillions of markets.

And so I think there’s going to be tremendous revolution, you know, in the experiences of the post-PC devices. Now, the question is how much to do in the PCs. And I think I’m sure Microsoft is–we’re working on some really cool stuff, but some of it has to be tempered a little bit because you do have, you know, these tens of millions, in our case, or hundreds of millions in Bill’s case, users that are familiar with something that, you know, they don’t want a car with six wheels. They like the car with four wheels. They don’t want to drive with a joystick. They like the steering wheel.

And so, you know, you have to, as Bill was saying, in some cases, you have to augment what exists there and in some cases, you can replace things. But I think the radical rethinking of things is going to happen in a lot of these post-PC devices.

A New UI Paradigm

Bill Gates believes that 3D interfaces have long been anticipated and will be the next big thing in the coming years. As he had said, just imagine actually being in the virtual world, doing the walking and other physical actions, instead of just controlling an avatar in your computer. To make it clear, you control a Mii character when playing on the Nintendo Wii. But with Kinect, you will feel like you're controlling yourself instead. Your physical and virtual existence becomes one in Kinect.

What is Missing

Obviously there is something missing from Kinect that fulfills Bill's thoughts for the 3D future: the holographic interface. With Kinect, the computer only sees us doing the actions ourselves, but for us to actually interact with the virtual object just as Tony Stark does, now that's something else.

If Kinect becomes successful... (and I think it will be.)

I know Kinect is only limited to the console Xbox 360. But I'm guessing if this becomes widely accepted by the public, it would be natural for Microsoft to redirect its focus to a 3D interface for the personal computer itself. It is indeed the birth of the next generation gaming and computing, far beyond what Apple and its touch interface (of iPad and iPhone) hope to accomplish. (Sorry Apple fanboys, the truth must be told.)

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