Tuesday, June 02, 2009
Microsoft Project Natal certainly impressed all of us because it breaks with existing conventions in the user interface, a territory that we all believe settled and stable.
But, where does it comes from? Is it the result of careful planning? In fact project Natal is the result of years of work of a recently acquired israeli start-up: 3DVSystems. Therefore, one more case of Open Innovation.
An interesting aspect is the reason why it was implemented in the Xbox. I mean, this new graphical interface could be implemented in many other devices, such as MS surface, webTV, etc...
Here, we must remember last year comments of Steve Jobs in All things Digital. He was asking everybody, where was the action? And the action is clearly not in the PC. Maybe the action is in mobile devices ... and especially in games!!
But, there is something more than the fact that games are hot now and because of that there are a lot of incentives for innovation there. User interfaces get fixed and once that happens is difficult to change.
Typical examples of these situations are the steering wheel in cars, or the disposition of keyboards, but also devices and interfaces such as the mouse and drop-down menus. Yes, in PCs (personal computers in general including Macs - this is written in Mac) there is a huge investment in the interface that is, maybe not impossible, but very difficult to move. Change is therefore difficult. A prove of that had been the difficulties of Tablet PCs, not only because of price, but because of lack of applications that could make sense of the interface.
In addition to that, one can argue that certain uses and certain demographics are reluctant to change (who wants a car driven with a joystick for example). On the contrary, other demographics and other devices embrace change, either because of the lack of a fixed UI (mobile devices) or because of their intrinsic nature (games) that favors exploration.
Maybe then, this new UI is not really about gaming, it just happens to be implemented first in games.
Correction: It seems that project Natal is not derived from the buying of 3DV but an internal development. Although 3DV acquisition provided the camera and probably some completed the IP portfolio protection.