Connecting the dots: Microsoft E3 announcements

Connecting the dots: Microsoft E3 announcements

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Wow, where do I start with the content of the Microsoft briefing today from E3? So much to see in the first 30 minutes alone. The Microsoft News Center has all the news in detail including video, photography and coverage to date. Major Nelson has plenty of coverage too in his post titled Cloud Storage and more coming to Xbox LIVE. In short, you can get all the announcements in a lot of detail….and there were a lot of them.

Rather than re-hash the news, I thought I’d give you my takeaways from the event having had a few hours to digest everything that was covered. A few topics rose to the surface for me, based on some themes I’ve discussed on this blog before.

 

  • A world of Metro - user interface unification
  • Speech becoming a first class citizen
  • Kinect’s next steps
  • Blurring the physical and digital
  • Bringing natural user interfaces to the living room

Read on to see my take on E3…

 

 

 

A world of Metro - user interface unification

Like Laura June, I noted that we now have 3 interfaces that now have a real family feel to them – shown below are Windows 8, Xbox 360 and Windows Phone 7. A clear sign that Metro is becoming a strong design approach across the company. Personally I think it’s great to see – not just because Metro is a strong, distinctive approach but also because it exemplifies the connection points across our products and promotes brand recognition.

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xbox

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CrunchGear has some good shots from the keynote of the new UI on Xbox.

 

Speech becoming a first class UI citizen

I’ve blogged about speech before and Bill Gates has talked about the power of speech for a long time. I recently profiled Larry Heck on this blog and he gave some sense of why speech is entering a new era and where it’s going. The cloud has a lot to do with this shift but for users, what it means is increasingly we can “drive” our experiences across devices using our voice. Searching for places or flight status on a phone, searching for music or movies on Xbox – speech is one of the most natural ways we interact with each other and we’re now starting to see technology understand us. When you combine speech with other modalities – like pointing or gesturing, it becomes extremely powerful. Expect to see speech show up more often and at the same time for it to help technology fade in to the background.

 

Kinect’s next steps

Kinect launched with a stellar set of games but since launch, I know people have been asking for a wider set of games – today, that happened with something for almost everyone. I joked on Twitter (but only half joked) that I now have something for my nephew with Star Wars, lots for my daughter with Sesame Street and Disney and even more for my Dad with darts and golf coming to Kinect Sports 2. For my brother and I, Forza Motorsport 4 is drool-worthy with head tracking, audio control and from what I could see, the Top Gear UK track is one of the circuits.

 

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I’m no hardcore gamer but they’re well served too with Gears of War, Modern Warfare 3, Tomb Raider, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Future Soldier, and Ryse. And that wasn’t all…EA Sports announced Kinect support for several of its titles including Tiger Woods PGA TOUR, Madden NFL, FIFA, The Sims 3 Pets, Family Game Night 4, and Mass Effect 3. It didn’t stop there with Fable, Dance Central 2 and the finale being an announce of Halo 4 in development. Check out Star Wars below…

 

Blurring the physical and digital

…and Kinect went beyond games with the introduction of Fun Labs. Anything involving Kudo Tsunoda is spells fun and Fun Labs is just that. In a video with Doc Brown (of Back to the Future fame) we get to see what it’s all about.

 

“Kinect Me” uses the Kinect sensor to scan you and turn the image it sees in to your avatar. Bobble Head creates a talking Bobble Head of yourself. Finger tracking in Fun Labs shows more of the capabilities of the sensor and perhaps most interesting was object scanning – place an object in front of Kinect and in moments it’s on your screen – scanned in and digitized. The barriers between our physical and digital worlds are coming down and the potential here is huge. I’m left wondering if I can scan in my sunglasses and put them on my Bobble Head.

I played a little with Fun Labs last week and took more of a look when I get home this evening. It’s fun…and impressive. With the Kinect SDK not very far away, I’m looking forward to seeing what the world creates with Kinect.

 

Bringing natural user interfaces in to the living room

Xbox is clearly becoming an entertainment hub – moving far beyond it’s gaming roots. My own Xbox 360S rarely gets used for gaming but we’re Netflix crazy and use the Zune music service a lot. With YouTube coming to Xbox Live, I can only see our non gamer user going up.

As Frank Shaw mentioned in a blog post last week, 40% of all Xbox activity is now non-game. It’s not just TV services – often overlooked are Twitter and Facebook – built in to the experience and Video Kinect which give you a Skype like experience from your sofa. For me, this is the gateway to more natural user interfaces around the home – with the living room at the center. My Xbox recognizes me, understands my voice, knows what music I like, what TV I enjoy and can connect to my social networks. That’s an extremely powerful combination for me – but when it’s controlled by voice and gesture, it opens up a big landscape to many millions of people who’ve not entertained tech in their living room before.

 

Conclusion

Today showed me more than just Xbox, Kinect, entertainment and great new games – woven in to the announcements I could see the investments the company has been making really coming to life (speech, NUI, search) and a strong design ethic emerging alongside. My role to a large extent is joining the dots of the many moving parts of the company and today, many more dots began to surface publicly. Fun times.

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  • It was nice seeing the implementation of Kinnect in games such as Mass Effect 3.  That said, the general consensus from various gaming message boards and gaming websites I've visited (which is most often frequented by "hardcore" gamers), is that Microsoft's presentation was disappointing.   Though the anouncement of Halo 4 was welcome, the lack of first-part exclusives seems to be getting the most criticism.  Yes Modern Warfare 3 looked great, but it is also available on other platforms.    Is Microsoft expecting Kinnect to be the main driving force for Xbox 360 sales going forward?  Doesn't that seem rather risky given that it is not a core component of the 360, but rather a $150 addon (at least for existing 360 owners)?