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Kinect for PCs brings gesture-based computing to the enterprise

Microsoft Kinect for Windows brings voice and gesture-based control to business PCs. It’s like science fiction, but will go live February 1. Here are the potential enterprise uses.

Though businesses probably won’t take advantage of Kinect for PC technology for many years, it’s not too early to consider the possibilities.

Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect for Windows PCs launches on Feb. 1, the company announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this month. Several companies, including Boeing, Mattel and Toyota are working on applications to port the gaming experience to the PC.

While the immediate implications for the Kinect on a PC relate to gaming, the voice and motion-control sensor will infiltrate enterprises eventually.

Imagine navigating through a computer’s file system through a simple flick of the finger or browsing the web with voice commands. The ability to control a PC through gestures and speech sounds like something out of science fiction, but the very real enterprise possibilities can now be contemplated.

The adoption of the Kinect technology in enterprises “is probably going to take ten years at least,” cautioned Tim Mangan, owner of TMurgent Technologies, an IT consultancy based in Canton, Mass. While it is too early to tell how a voice and gesture-based interface will be adopted by enterprises, this release gives software developers and businesses a glimpse of what those use cases will be, he said.

The most logical place for this technology relates to telecommunications and meetings, especially factoring in Microsoft’s purchase of Skype, said Steven Hughes, a clinical engineer with Boston’s Veterans Administration.

“If you think about having a presentation in a meeting room with a large display device,” said Mangan, “using motion and voice commands instead of passing around a keyboard makes sense.”

Other experts see the potential for the Kinect in industries as varied as health care, architecture, manufacturing, retail, education and advertising. For IT administrators, the combination of Windows 8 and the Kinect could impact security authentication, network operations center (NOC) management, tablet integration, video conferencing and more.

Another possible use case includes CAD, where physically moving an object in three dimensions would prove easier with Kinect than with a mouse or stylus, said Wes Miller, a research analyst for Directions on Microsoft, an independent analysis firm based in Kirkland, Wash.

“I don’t think it’s clear exactly which applications or industries will wind up using it most, but I can easily see it being used for reporting, analytics and business intelligence, where you need to drill through and manipulate visual information quickly,” Miller said.

Miller imagines a work environment where employees rely on a combination of the keyboard, Kinect technology (likely built into the computer monitor) and a traditional mouse, because no one knows how usable the Kinect will be initially or overtime.

And besides, Mangan jokes, “I’m not going to feel comfortable saying ‘Google Victoria’s Secret’ in a corporate setting.”

Prepare to pay a hefty price if there’s no enterprise discount. Kinect for PCs will cost $249. By comparison, a standalone Kinect sensor for the Xbox retails for $149.

The reason, Microsoft said in a blog post announcing the release, is the Kinect is partially subsidized for Xbox consumers by game sales and subscriptions to Xbox Live. The company also had to build a new firmware into the device so people could use them within a few feet, instead of across the living room like they do with the Xbox.

Microsoft has been known to discount enterprise products at scale, but “$250 isn’t cheap” Miller quipped. “It’s halfway to an iPad. I’m not sure pricing it that high was a great choice.”

The real benefit of this announcement, Miller suggests, beyond determining use cases for the technology, is as a “way to adapt legacy desktop” apps to the touch-based environment in the Windows 8 interface.

Let us know what you think about the story; email James Furbush or follow @slyoyster on Twitter

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