On Monday, Microsoft had its annual Open House. This year, it was held in New York City, and Microsoft paid for several student bloggers, including me, to cover the event. The details of my other adventures are vaguely chronicled on my Twitter, but I want to focus here on what Microsoft had to show at the event.
Windows Phone 7
The headline event was a press conference about Windows Phone 7, Microsoft’s newest platform intended to compete with other smartphones. Here’s a quick gloss. It, unlike most Android phones, has a nifty-looking home screen, which is just a bunch of tiles for different applications. It, unlike the iPhone, is available on several different phones with different features. Let’s consider a few interesting choices they made.
One of the highlighted features of the phone is what I will call the “stalker feature.” They emphasized quick access to the things that matter most: people. The phone constantly streams updates from Facebook and Windows Live for people that you can pin as a tile to your home screen. Really, Microsoft? I mean, I sort of get it. It’s reasonable that there might be some people that you want to always know what’s been happening with and need something really convenient for that. At that point, though, you might as well just phone or text them constantly. Unless you don’t want them to know that you’re paying attention…
The slogans are kind of fun, though, in a good and bad way. “Always delightful.” That’s nice. “Wonderfully mine.” I can identify with that. “In, out, and back to life.” How pleas– wait. Wait. We are still talking about using a phone, right? Why am I reminded of the 7-Up ad campaign, “Make 7-Up yours.”?
Moving on, I got to play around with a few things that afternoon and saw demos for Windows Live features, the new Microsoft Office, the Arc Mouse, and more. Given my short attention span, I want to talk about the most exciting thing: Kinect.
Kinect for Xbox 360
Kinect is the new technology for Xbox 360 to turn your whole body into your controller. Instead of an xbox controller or a wiimote, there’s a camera/heat sensor/depth sensor/microphone for full-body capture. And it really works. Having played wii golf, I have suffered with poor sensitivity, but I had no problems with Kinect, even with people in the background and jumping up and down. I played both ping pong and volleyball, both of which were a lot of fun, and also saw “Dance Central,” a dancing game that, unlike DDR, actually requires that you dance. Very cool.
I, however, am not completely without concerns. Basically, remember the issues with the wiimote and scale them up tremendously. First, action-induced injuries. While playing volleyball, I found myself really getting into it even though it really only required 3 or 4 different moves. Beyond the repetitive action, without a ball, there’s no resistance, making it easy to over-exert in various actions. Second, although you might not throw a projectile into your TV, there’s going to be a lot of flailing. Finally, it might still be gimmicky. Microsoft redid the Xbox Live UI to work with gestures, and frankly, I can see it being tiring. It’s clever, but tiring. Extend that to the games themselves, and let’s see if developers find good uses for it.
In spite of that, Kinect is awesome. I have neither an Xbox 360 nor space in my dorm room, and I still want one. Microsoft absolutely has the technology right; let’s see the game developers follow through.
The demos were cool. There was an expected amount of eye candy, but there were also a lot of substantive improvements and features, and I now actually believe that you’re trying, Microsoft. It’s too bad that nobody knows about this stuff, where nobody is determined entirely out of my previous ignorance, because it’s really cool. We just need to be sold on it.