Why Kinect for Windows Is Even Cooler Than Apple's Siri

KinectIt's time to get to know your PC a little better.

Microsoft (MSFT) Kinect -- the camera-based motion controller for the Xbox 360 that has sold 18 million units since its launch in the fall of 2010 -- is coming to a computer near you. The world's largest software company revealed that Kinect will hit the market as a PC accessory next month.

Those familiar with Kinect may be shaking their heads. The motion-based system has helped bring new depth to Xbox's action, dancing, and fitness titles. No one is going to want to stand up while using their computer -- much less stand back far enough from their monitor so the camera captures their entire body movements.

Thankfully, that's not part of the plan. The immediate appeal of Kinect for Windows is that it will allow users to interact with their PCs by issuing vocal commands or hand gestures. If you think Apple's (AAPL) Siri is neat, imagine just lifting your hand a certain way to open a browser window or check your email. Barking out commands will do the same thing if you don't want to bother with gestures.

Bigger and Better Possibilities

Microsoft is opening up the platform to developers to drum up applications that even its own engineers haven't been able to dream up.

There are already some pretty neat applications in the real world.

  • A hospital in Spain uses Kinect in its operating room so surgeons can navigate through MRIs and CAT scans with a simple wave of the hand.
  • Another overseas hack -- spearheaded by a university in Portugal -- developed a Kinect-backed shopping cart that follows a disabled patron around the store.
  • A Seattle-based treatment center for autistic children incorporates Kinect's sensors in its therapies.

Suddenly you seem like a slacker for leaning on Kinect only when it's time for some Zumba Fitness or to play Dance Central 2.

Wait for a Price Break

Carrying a suggested retail price of $249 when it hits the market on Feb. 1, the Microsoft accessory isn't cheap. The PC unit will be roughly twice as expensive as the Xbox 360 Kinect accessory.

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However, help is on the way -- if you are either a student or a teacher. Special academic pricing that will shave $100 off the Kinect for Windows hardware is planned for qualified educational users later this year.

The surprisingly high price may make it a hard sell at first, though some early adopters won't flinch at the chance for bragging rights and the opportunity to kick the tires. The good news here is that the platform will evolve over time, partly because of Microsoft's developer-friendly measures when it comes to Kinect.

The original Kinect for the Xbox was marketed primarily as a personalized gaming experience, but it has come a long way. Just last month, Microsoft partnered with several pay-TV giants to offer more streaming options for its voice-controlled entertainment offerings.

Either way, it won't be long before you may be sparing your freshly painted nails by saying "Bing" to bring up your search engine or waving goodbye to power down your system.

Longtime Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz does not own shares in any stocks in this article. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Microsoft and Apple, as well as creating bull call spread positions in Apple and Microsoft.

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