Look mom, no hands!

Microsoft’s new optical gaming system is all a part of its strategy to take over the living room
Look mom, no hands!
Ted S. Warren/AP

Microsoft has sometimes been called a one-trick pony, albeit a very successful one. Its Windows operating system is used on 90 per cent of the world’s computers. But nothing lasts forever, which is why the Redmond, Wash.-based company has been desperately trying to come up with a repeat hit.

Yet despite rolling out an avalanche of new products over the years—Zune media players, Windows Mobile and its Bing search engine, among others—only Microsoft’s Xbox video game console has been an unqualified success. And now, just in time for the holiday shopping season, Microsoft has upped the ante with an optical motion control system called Kinect that leapfrogs the motion sensing controllers of rivals Nintendo and Sony. That’s because it doesn’t require a controller at all. Instead, it’s an optical sensor that is placed atop your TV set to follow your physical movements. Microsoft says it sold one million of the devices in the first 10 days and is on track to sell five million by year’s end.

While Kinect is certain to give the Xbox a sales boost, Microsoft has its eyes on a much bigger prize: the entire living room. Both Microsoft and Sony in particular are keen to make their consoles all-in-one entertainment systems, playing movies and offering content from the Web, including streaming video. Dennis Durkin, the chief operating and financial officer of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business, recently said that 40 per cent of Xbox Live members in the U.S. use their consoles for activities other than gaming, including streaming movies on Netflix, listening to music or following friends on Facebook.

Kinect promises to help further this trend by shedding the Xbox’s image as a platform solely for hard-core gamers, while also solving the problem of comfortably using your television set to access the Web. Suddenly, the need for a cumbersome keyboard or remote controls festooned with buttons—needed for Google TV and other rival products—is a thing of the past.