Next-generation Kinect for Windows won't be for the average user

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Microsoft has made it official: The new-and-improved Kinect that will ship with the Xbox One later this year will also come to Windows in 2014.

The Windows version will offer the same improvements found in the Xbox One’s Kinect. The device has a wider field of view, better depth detection, an improved noise-canceling microphone, more precise skeletal tracking, and ambient light detection.

But don’t expect Kinect to replace your PC’s mouse and webcam anytime soon. Microsoft still envisions Kinect primarily as a product for businesses and organizations, though the company expects consumers to interact with the motion controller in public places.

The new Kinect sensor in action

“It’s going to be the spaces that are stand-up play spaces similar to the living room experiences,” Bob Heddle, Microsoft’s director of Kinect for Windows, said in an interview. “I would imagine that most consumers will see this in interactive retail screens, for example … virtual product trial is very interesting, things like magic mirrors to try on virtual clothing.”

So far, Microsoft has not marketed Kinect for Windows as a consumer product. At $250, the device is $150 more expensive than its Xbox 360 counterpart, and Microsoft offers no central location where users can download Kinect apps. It’s unclear whether the Windows Store will support apps for the next version of Kinect—Microsoft is promising more developer details at its Build conference next month—but it’s safe to assume that consumer applications won’t be a focus either way.

Meanwhile, other companies are bringing motion controls to the consumer market. Leap Motion, for example, will ship its 3D motion controller in July for $80, and Thalmic Labs’ MYO will launch next year for $150.

Microsoft sees Kinect as a more complete solution than those products. Heddle lamented how people perceive Kinect as just a depth sensor when it can also detect color, audio and—in the case of the new Kinect—ambient lighting, and perceive all of those things together. “I think people saw Kinect as a little bit too one-sided,” he said.

Still, those extra capabilities add bulk and cost, which might explain why Microsoft isn’t pitching the Windows version as a consumer device. Microsoft hasn’t revealed a specific price or release date for the next-generation Kinect, but on the Xbox 360, Microsoft subsidizes the cost of Kinect in hopes of making money back on games, Xbox Live subscriptions, and other revenue streams. While Microsoft’s Craig Mundie has said that he could “see a path” toward embedding Kinect technology directly into PCs, Heddle said that was just “speculation.”

Heddle wouldn’t rule out a greater role for Kinect on home PCs, saying that Microsoft has a long-term commitment to touch-free computing and natural user interfaces. But the company sees gestures as one tool among many, rather than a flat-out replacement for the traditional mouse.

“Over time, we really expect that Kinect will turn into the platform that makes computers smarter by knowing what’s going on, and also allowing users to untether from their computers, and stand up, move around in their normal spaces and still be access computing experiences,” Heddle said.

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