Monday, June 1, 2009

The business implications of Project Natal

As I previously mentioned, I've started a "natural user interface" group on FriendFeed, which you can find at Here's a peek into the group right (updated as things change).

While it's neat to see really kewl stuff here and there, the one thought that has been in the back of my mind has been, "Can these user interface advances be applied in a business context?"

Earlier today word spread across the tubes about a Microsoft announcement regarding "Project Natal," a new interface for the XBox 360 that should appear next year. Here's what the Seattle Times had to say about it:

Microsoft revealed a motion-sensing gadget for the Xbox 360 that it said will change the future of entertainment....

Code-named Project Natal, the device is a horizontal bar about nine inches wide and stuffed with cameras, depth sensors and array microphones.

It can detect the voices and motions of people nearby, so they can interact with an Xbox and games just by talking and moving their bodies.

James Games (no, not the place in Upland - by the way, I know the Upland James) links this to another Microsoft initiative:

(It is a bit like Microsoft’s Surface, but without the Surface).

Microsoft's announcement was made in advance of the Electronic Entertainment Expo over in Los Angeles. But I originally discovered this via a share by FriendFeed user digitalsoup (Alex), who shared this YouTube video.

As you can see from the video, Project Natal attempts to remove hardware devices that we normally use to communicate with computers, and instead allows us to use our hands, feet, and other parts of our bodies to communicate. If you think about it, a "control x" or even a mouse click is not a natural movement, and (at least theoretically) a Project Natal-like interface supports more natural movements.

But here's the question that interests me - how long will it take to transfer this technology from the game console to the corporate computer? Now this goes above and beyond Microsoft's announced plans to move the XBox 360 into movies, television and social networking. I'm talking about Microsoft server operating systems running on computers that don't need mice.

Your thoughts? How can a Project Natal-like interface help you to do your job better?

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