Microsoft chairman Bill Gates finally got an opportunity to realize his long cherished dream of making technology intuitive and able to understand the user. He has often held the belief that technology should work for us and not the other way around. Microsoft Kinect, it can be said, is a literal translation of Gate’s dream and vision.
Key Issues faced by Microsoft Kinect
Microsoft Kinect is not without its own set of issues. The product faces certain problems on various dimensions – on a personal front because of its features and make and on a higher level because of the competition in the market.
On a personal level, Microsoft Kinect costs more than its competitors which discourages a lot of people with smaller budgets from buying it. Another issue that players have frequently faced is the time lag between the actual movement of the player and its replication in the game. Also, when one plays on Kinect they need to clear a large amount of space as the camera captures everything in the vicinity of the player as part of the game. Since it only recognizes the gestures of the player, any other person standing within the range of the camera, apart from the player, would also be recognized. This interferes with the experience of the player, as has been reported by people who have used it. Another factor reported about Microsoft Kinect is that many games have not been updated to recognize the gestures and again there is a heavy time lag. Also, if the player moves out of the range of the camera then his or her onscreen avatar in the game disappears from the game too. But despite these issues faced by players, there is no doubt in the minds of buyers, gaming fans and the business world that gesture recognition has revolutionized the gaming experience.
When one talks of issues faced because of competition then the key competitors for Kinect are other products launched by Sony and Wii. WiiMote Plus has registered the highest sales over the last four years and it has been able to maintain that position consistently. This has been largely due to the facilitating factor that consumers find attractive and easy to use as well. Since the motion control is integrated with the console, the users and players find it more convenient to play with WiiMote plus. Microsoft Kinect faces the toughest competition from Wii because both the products have the same target audience of casual gamers. To keep this segment of the market interested is difficult as in most cases they are one time buyers who do not frequently go in for updated versions or models of video games.
In comparison to Sony Playstation, Microsoft Kinect only faces competition in the volume of sales. The target market of either companies or both the products is different as Sony targets the hardcore gamers who buy all latest releases and frequently change their consoles and gaming products. Having led the market of gaming products for a long time, Wii was overtaken by Microsoft Kinect for the first time in 2011. The sales figures registered by Kinect were higher than that of Sony Playstation as well.
Since the target market for Microsoft Kinect and Sony Playstation are different, the main competitor for Kinect in the market of casual gamers is Wii. Microsoft was able to takeover Wii following some of the weaknesses that players experienced when they used the products by the latter. Two main issues players faced with Wii were that it did not display high definition content and that it was a very inaccurate system. Especially in comparison with Kinect and PlayStation it was found to be the least accurate. This also diverted the buyers towards Kinect. But one of the factors in favour of Wii is that it has the largest gaming library amongst all its competitors which means players have more options to choose games from. (National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center, 2011)
The Kinect technology has perhaps been most successful with Xbox 360 and with that it has changed the way people see and play video games. Kinect has made the gaming interface not just capable of recognizing voice commands but also capable of identifying the user by facial recognition. It has given gamers an opportunity to get off the couch and become a participant of the actual game. The interface also recognizes gestures, and together with voice and facial recognition this is called Natural User Interface. Some of the key features of this product are its gesture recognition technology which has made use of remotes and console redundant and its facial recognition technology. Kinect has, perhaps, made the best use of Natural User Interface.
The gesture recognition feature of Kinect in Xbox identifies the gestures made by the player and reciprocates that in the virtual game. This way the player does not need to use any console or remote to play the game. The camera recognizes the user using the facial recognition technology and stores information of the user in its system. Whenever the same player logs in, he or she is identified by the system and all their settings are restored for the game. Another feature of Kinect is that players get the feeling that they are playing the actual game. The players are forced to get up and become a part of the game which is a unique experience in the gaming world.
Using this set of product features as a base for its future products, Microsoft is planning to introduce a new advanced product for gamers that will employ the touch technology. Titled as Xbox One, it is supposed to be an advanced version of Kinect with better gesture recognition. Microsoft claims that it has addressed many of the issues faced by the earlier version of Kinect like the camera issue and privacy issue. It also has a windows compatible version which the company is targeting to release by 2014. By introducing this product, Microsoft has plans to enter yet another market for gamers in addition to the casual gamers market, which is the personal computer gaming market. This is for those people who prefer playing games on their personal computers and laptops.
Microsoft Kinect is the flagship product for Microsoft in the gaming sector not just because it has helped build a positive brand image for the company but also because it has proved that Microsoft has immense potential for innovation and product development. More research is being continually conducted by the company to innovate and come up with more technologically advanced products. It has been suggested that Microsoft should also focus on developing products that are able to meet what the competitors are offering and be at par with the prices charged by them. This would bring Microsoft at par with competition and help it capture a larger share of the target market. Research can also be conducted to remodel the existing line of gaming products and introduce features that bring them at par with current offerings of the competitor companies.
Firm Related Factors
Microsoft is one of the companies that have consistently been rated high on parameters of work culture and innovation by various indices such as Great Place To Work etc.
Culture at Microsoft
Microsoft encourages a culture where members share and exchange ideas with each other, brainstorm with each other to come up new ideas to solve business problems. Microsoft works on products that impact the lives of people who use them and makes a positive contribution to society. This is the feeling that is encouraged in members and in their ideating process. Communication is also stressed on a lot, whether it is inter office with members of the team, or with members working in a different part of the part. Teams work together to offer new and innovative products to consumers and also better their best performance. Maintaining consistency in quality is also a prerogative that is stressed on and has become a part of the culture at Microsoft.
Microsoft has been in existence for a long time and has entered various markets over the years. Starting from hardware and software solutions for computers, it has also entered the market of mobile technology, business solutions, office solutions and online services. All these divisions collaborate to offer the best experience to clients and customers. Microsoft is actively involved in addressing all the issues that a user may face from a system or a product made by Microsoft. This also gives the users a feeling of personalized experiences where their grievances are resolved and solutions offered by the company. Employees too have a wonderful experience of working with Microsoft and the employee turnover of the company is low as per the standards of the industry. (Gustavo Saposnik, 2010)
Microsoft has a separate research and development division that actively works on new projects and products that would go on to become market leaders. Starting from its Operating systems like Windows 97, Windows XP, Windows 7 and now Windows 8, the research team has always provided something new with each product. This shows Microsoft’s commitment towards research and development of new products and offering new experiences to users. The same can be seen in the office solutions divisions and with other products. A separate company, in fact, was incorporated in the year 1991 titled Microsoft Research which is dedicated to innovation and development of new ideas. From software to gaming, this vertical of the company has played an active role in making ideas turn into reality. (Anat Mirelman, Benjamin L Patritti, Paolo Bonato, and Judith E Deutsch, 2010)
Having a dedicated line of management to monitor and manage the research and development team and the heavy amount of investment made by the company for this purpose also demonstrates the intensity with which Microsoft relies on R&D.
Strategy towards innovation
Microsoft has always been inclined towards innovation as can be seen by the line of products introduced by the company in various sectors. Microsoft does not limit itself to one set of operations or one line of products. The company has a history and trend of experimenting with different products. The company has held research projects in various fields like Communication and Collaboration, Computational Linguistics, Computational Sciences, hardware and devices, gaming devices and consoles, human-computer interaction, graphics and multimedia and many more areas. (Yao-Jen Chang, Shu-Fang Chen, and Jun-Da Huang, 2011) The strategy that drives Microsoft is offering revolutionary and ground breaking solutions to persistent problems. The second strategy adopted by the company is discovering new ways to bring technology closer to the users and removing barriers between technology and the user.
The organization structure at Microsoft Corporation is one where each operation or product has been divided into a separate company or divisions and each division focuses on one line of products. Each division has a dedicated R&D department, sales department and customer service division. This structure had been in place for years, but recently, in a spate to make Microsoft more collaborative the company is reorganizing the structure. All teams and divisions would follow a single strategy and chase a common company goal. Although the company will still remain incorporated as per the earlier organization structure. (Belinda Lange, Chien-yen Chang, Evan Suma, Bradley Newman, Al-bert Skip Rizzo, and Mark Bolas, 2011)
National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center. Spinal cord injury facts and figures at a glance. Birmingham, Alabama, February 2011.
Gustavo Saposnik et al. Effectiveness of virtual reality using Wii gaming technology in stroke rehabilitation: a pilot randomized clinical trial and proof of principle. Stroke, 41(7):1477–1484, 2010.
Anat Mirelman, Benjamin L Patritti, Paolo Bonato, and Judith E Deutsch. Effects of virtual reality training on gait biomechanics of individuals post-stroke. Gait & Posture
, 31(4):433–437, 2010.
Yao-Jen Chang, Shu-Fang Chen, and Jun-Da Huang. A kinect-based system for physical rehabilitation: A pilot study for young adults with motor disabilities. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 32(6):2566–2570, 2011.
Belinda Lange, Chien-yen Chang, Evan Suma, Bradley Newman, Al-bert Skip Rizzo, and Mark Bolas. Development and evaluation of low cost game-based balance rehabilitation tool using the microsoft kinect sensor. In International Conference of the Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, pages 1831–1834, Boston, Massachusetts, August 2011