I???m in the business of identifying when there???s a change in the wind coming that will push us in a new direction. On balance, I???ve been successful. So much so, that when something I staked my career on becomes commonplace, people are so used to it that they look back and think I was only pointing out the obvious. Like when the most senior faculty member in the advertising department at Syracuse University rejected the ???Interactive Advertising??? course I proposed to teach in 1996 because online advertising was ???just a fad.??? I took a stand and got to teach the class, over his objections. Fast forward to today and online advertising is so obvious that predicting it is a thankless task.
I say this because I am about to take a stand I want you to remember. Ready? Starting Nov. 4th, Kinect for Xbox 360 will usher us into a new era Forrester has entitled the Era of Experience. This is an era in which we will revolutionize the digital home and everything that goes along with it. It starts by completely altering the way people consume home media that were only linear and nonparticipatory before now because there was no other way to engage them otherwise. But once there???s a meaningful and mesmerizing way for people to engage media content, the very formats of media will change, not to mention the devices (and services) through which they are delivered. Eventually, this will affect just about everything you do in your home. Yes, that, too.
I???ve just completed a long report for Forrester that explains in detail why Kinect represents the shape of things to come. I show that Kinect is to multitouch user interfaces what the mouse was to DOS. It is a transformative change in the user experience, the interposition of a new and dramatically natural way to interact???not just with TV, not just with computers???but with every machine that we will conceive of in the future.
In this era, companies can no longer succeed by simply building a great product or distributing it efficiently because competitors can do the same. Instead, it is the compelling nature of the total product experience that will create value for consumers. These experiences have to engage your mind, your body, and your sense of self. Like Avatar 3D, only every day. Kinect can do that like nothing before it. This $150 peripheral for nearly 40 million owners of the Xbox 360 can see you in 3D, map your motions, and interact with you in completely natural ways. Kinect can recognize your face and your voice, knowing you in a way that science-fiction authors have long imagined. It will make gameplay more interesting, certainly, but if it stops there, a revolution will be stillborn. It must ultimately go far beyond gaming. I describe many examples of this in my report, but let me just summarize how we get to a future where no product category or service can escape this change.
???First, it goes beyond the Xbox. The Xbox will be the first product to alter our world, but it won???t be the only device involved. Every other product strategist will catch on quickly, understanding that if they don???t offer this type of user interface their product will become an Xbox peripheral. Expect Google (NSDQ: GOOG) TV to develop its own motion-aware system for the TVs in its fold; and Nintendo must do the same or lose its newfound foothold in the home. Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) will steer clear for now because, well, the company didn???t invent it. (And this is perhaps the first major innovation in user experience not invented by Apple???does Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) realize what it has done?)
???Second, it becomes wedded to an array of interconnected devices. Apple TV is an iPad peripheral, and Google TV already speaks to mobile phones, but Kinect is a system that will be 10X more interesting to connect to other devices in the home. Microsoft can (and should) lead here by developing iOS and Android apps that interact with Kinect, but it???s not clear Microsoft understands that Kinect isn???t just a game controller???it???s a TV operating system. If the company catches on to that???and builds on it???it could beat Apple and Google in the coming TV OS wars.
??? Third, developers will go nuts for this. I???ve been demonstrating 3D sensing technology to marketers and developers for several months now, and each time we get through the demo, people gasp because they quickly see how this will overhaul their businesses. Retailers see how it will be the first virtual store technology that really moves people; financial-service firms see how it will become a kind of window through which their customers will look to them to graphically render the consequences of their investment decisions; and advertisers see infinite ways they can not only sponsor these experiences but create marketing experiences that are as engaging as the games and movies people otherwise consume in the living room. It is the power of these developers, first summoned by Apple, that will ??? once they put their hands on Kinect and all its spawn ??? create the future I am predicting here.
I can???t persuade you in a single blog post, even in an entire report. But I have to start spreading the word. Because I want credit? No, I accept that in 10 years, when 70% of homes have this kind of technology and are experiencing the dozens of enhanced applications I have imagined as well as the thousands I have yet to envision, no one will look back and hand me a trophy. I don???t care. I want this to happen because I want to be a consumer on the receiving end of these compelling and superlative experiences.
Which, at that point, will seem so obvious that, well, I will have moved on to predicting what comes after that.
James McQuivey is an analyst at Forrester Research, where he serves Consumer Product Strategy professionals. James blogs here.