Xbox Kinect

So, saw a commercial for the Xbox Kinect last night.  My son asked a bit about it.  What was the most interesting about the commercial wasn’t that it was trying sell games, it was trying to sell the Kinect itself.  And it wasn’t doing that by highlighting games.  It was highlighting http://www.xbox.com/en-US/Kinect/Kinect-Effect. When the game console wars re-ignited a few years ago, there was a scramble between the Playstation, Xbox and Wii.  The Playstation and Xbox took the traditional route. More features.  Higher resolution.  Faster chips.

The Wii took a different route, almost like a guerrilla warfare tactic of not going for the faster chips, higher resolution.  They decided to change the gaming experience and go with their Wii Remote.  This changed the battle tremendously and  honestly is probably the only reason the Wii survived the battle at all.  I think if the Wii had gone the traditional route, Nintendo would have fallen by the wayside as Sony and Microsoft duked it out.

Then, a few years later Microsoft struck back with its own game-changing (sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) strategy.  They introduced the “jet-engine” known as the Kinect.  I use the term “jet-engine” not because it made anything faster, but because it changed the face of gaming dramatically, much like jet-engines changed aerial combat and strategy.

Originally tied strictly to the Xbox 360, within a month or so, open-source drivers for the PC were available.  This made it not just a new way to play games, but a completely new way to interact with a computer.

Now you can paint in three dimensions using it.  You can “grab air” and rotate and manipulate a digital image on the screen as naturally as if it physically in front of you.  You can swim through the Universe if you wish.  You can build a robot to navigate your house (Though it still can’t make the perfect martini.  Yet.)

And of course you can play games.

But like many great designs, its reach is far beyond its original purpose.  It’s innovations like this that truly drive the industry forward.

Next time you design something or build something, don’t fear someone using it in a way you didn’t intend.  Hope for it.

Simplicity

Over the years I’ve been involved in a number of web-based companies.  All had great ideas for their business model.   One had one of them had a great idea for classified ads.  It had the latest in taxonomic matching and advanced search capabilities.  If you were looking for a Mustang, it could tell direct you to ads for cars or horses depending on context and other factors.  Its search capabilities were ahead of the time.  It had pretty much every bell and whistle the newspapers asked for and that the design folks could think of.

Then Craigslist came alone.  Craigslist was free (at least compared to newspaper classified ad sites where the newspapers typically charged.)  It had no taxonomic matching.  Its search capabilities were and still are bare-bones.  In fact, it very much relies on the user to narrow down and define searches.

But it succeeded where the other product failed for what I believe one very simple reason.  It was simply blazingly fast.  It didn’t matter if it returned bad results the first time.  It was so fast the user didn’t mind typing in new search parameters and narrowing down their search.  It was faster than any of the “advanced” newspaper classified engines I saw.  Sure, they might try to do a better job of returning results, but the honest truth was, in most cases people would end up doing multiple searches anyway trying to narrow down their search.  And in the time it took to do 2-3 searches with a typical website, Craigslist allowed the user to do 10-15 searches.  Time was money and people wanted to do things quickly.

Over the years with numerous sites I’ve seen the design get in the way of the end-user.  The truth is, 80% of the time, people will use 20% of the features, but they want those 20% to be as fast as possible.

So, keep it simple and keep it very fast.

One of these days though I’ll relate the story of the 3,000 mile Steinway search.