Having established a strong foothold in the home market, Kinect is ready to branch into the corporate world.
Microsoft plans to launch a commercial program for the peripheral early next year, giving businesses the tools to develop customized applications for their companies and industries. The pilot program already includes such familiar names as Toyota, book publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and design firm Razorfish.
All totaled, over 200 "marquis brand" companies in 25 countries have signed up for the program, David Dennis, Microsoft Product Manager, tells Gamasutra. And while the majority of those companies have opted to keep their names hidden for now for competitive reasons, Microsoft is working with them to get the applications up and running, so they can debut as soon as possible. Just don't expect the Redmond-based company to do any first party apps for this program.
"We're putting development resources that understand this tech in the field and helping [these companies] build and fast track [their applications] to market," says Dennis. "Microsoft doesn't want to build, say, an education widget. Our goal is to build an ecosystem and a business platform to let our partners do that."
Kinect, which launched a year ago this Friday (Nov. 4), sold more than 10 million units in its first 60 days on the market. It launched with 17 titles and will have added another 75 more by the end of the year. And the game publishing community's enthusiasm hasn't shown many signs of slowing.
The commercial program was born from the numerous Kinect PC hacks that began to flood the Web soon after the peripheral was released. The innovation behind several of those programs fast-tracked Microsoft's plans to commercially license the technology on the Windows platform.
"Even before we launched Kinect, the phone was ringing off the hook from people saying 'Holy [cow], how can we get involved? We think it has the potential to revolutionize our industry as well'."
The apps that are emerging from the pilot (as you might expect) aren't things that will find their way onto retail shelves, but will be used by these companies as an aid for employees and staff. Several healthcare and educational facilities are already using Kinect games on the 360 as tools. The Lakeside Center for Autism in Washington, for example, uses them to help facilitate language and problems solving for autistic children, while the U.K.'s Royal Berkshire Hospital has been using the console to assist with rehabilitation therapy.
Spain-based Tedesys, meanwhile, already has an application in the field that allows surgical doctors to use Kinect to avoid bacterial infections in patients. (By using Kinect's voice and gesture recognition capabilities, they can call up Xrays and other information without having to introduce any potentially non-sterile objects into the operating room.)
While there's not a lot of chatter about what products are being worked on, one of the more reasonable assumptions is integrating Kinect into an advertising agenda – such as allowing users to pick an outfit at a retail clothing store and place an order. It would let a company dramatically expand its inventory for virtually no price and give customers a good opportunity to see if the outfit suits their style.
Applications such as these could be doubly beneficial to Microsoft, since the 360 would be the only place to air ads using the same technology. Dennis says this is something that hasn't escaped the company's notice, but it's not the point of the program.
That's not to say interactive Kinect ads aren't already being explored.
"There are so many interesting advertising scenarios we're looking at that utilize Kinect," he says. "One well-known pizza chain has come to us and said 'we'd love to have an app that lets people order a pizza using Kinect'."
Kinect ads have actually been on the mind of Microsoft execs for a while now. Currently, there's no real personalization of the ads that appear on the dashboard, an opportunity left on the table given the amount of data the company records about user habits. But figuring out how personalized those ads should be is a balancing act.
"Kinect certainly has the potential to make advertising more rich and personalized than it is now," says Dennis. "You have to do it in a balanced way for consumers, though. You don't want people to think Kinect is watching them. You don't want to make it creepy."