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Whither the Wii for older adults and other Kinect conundrums
Kinect-ion mania. This was an interesting week -- aside from the mid-term elections, which were as riveting a score-keeping experience as I've watched since the days before the 2004 World Series. But immediately after the election came the arrival and quick store departure of Microsoft's Kinect sensor units: the Target near my home sold out in one (brief) day. After reading the various near-rhapsodic reviews in the NY Times -- and this June's hopeful speculation about boomer-senior Kinect benefits from the Senior Director, Worldwide Health at Microsoft -- you have to wonder. Says Dr. Crounse: "How about home physical therapy or medical rehabilitation with expert avatars or live health professionals guiding me? What about supervised exercise programs for weight control? How about applications for people with cognitive disorders or neuromuscular challenges?" Yes -- how about all of that?
So you read the reviews and (and the hype) and mull it over. Kinect ($150) works with an XBox 360 controller, now in the possession of quite a few million households in the US. To get a bit of perspective, there are 30 million Wii consoles in the US -- well over 50 million world-wide, compared Microsoft's 44 million world-wide. (Anyone with the really accurate Microsoft US numbers, please pipe up, I got tired of trying to find them.) According to the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), 26% of video game players are 50+. Also intriguing, only fifty-four percent of Wii consoles are connected to the Internet -- compared to 73% of the XBox 360.
Who in the world of boomers and seniors will try Kinect first? The Wii (now four years in the market) with its fitness and sports-related games has fit nicely into an activities area of senior housing and senior centers. Staff members saw interest among and a way to engage folks all the way from gated community clubhouses to skilled nursing facilities. Not long ago, a nursing home executive director said as an aside (while describing his barely used computer center): "Of course, we also have the Wii." But of course.
Platform for multiple applied uses? What is so intriguing about Kinect? Well, that sensing unit that recognizes individual movement of users, learns their gestures, tunes the play to their behavior, recognizes voice commands, and even enables video conferencing with family members -- all through the user interface of the boomer-and-senior-ubiquitous TV. In addition to Dr. Crounse's concepts, think about the opportunity to port various ease-of-use PC software apps to an XBox 360 Kinect environment. Can user interfaces transcend touch screen computer interfaces of devices like HP's TouchSmart, for example, unlikely to have penetrated much of the world of either boomers or seniors. And the iPad and the numerous 'multitouch' (see linked lawsuit) tablet imitators-to-be make traditional touch screens obsolete anyway.
Does a gesture-centric approach replace previous game play? For group use in a convivial environment (both in the room and across the Internet), this seems like the beginning of a shift for those environments that are not already Wii-entrenched. But more possibilities emerge for vendors who choose to take advantage of the Kinect ecosystem that Microsoft is already cultivating. Perhaps a way to think about this:
1) Devices you wear or carry: cell and smart phones, PERS, or other body-worn sensors.
2) Sensor-based systems in your home or location with which you interact or which track you: webcams, security, environmental sensors, and activity monitoring
3) Devices that are portable: laptops, netbooks, tablet PCs and anything that supports both connected and offline modes
Certainly Microsoft has the cash, competence and compatriot partners to force a paradigm shift among all three, but of course the 4th C -- is for Competitors.