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How Microsoft lost the future of gesture control

Mike Elgan | April 1, 2013
Microsoft squandered its five-year head start in gesture control technology and is now falling behind. By the time the company gets Kinect for Windows into the consumer market, Leap Motion may already own that market.

Some 12,000 developers are working with the Leap platform. The company recently announced an app store called Airspace.

While both products superficially do the same thing, the two companies have taken completely different strategic approaches.

Microsoft is ignoring the consumer market; Leap Motion is embracing it.

Leap's other advantage is cross-platform support. It works on Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.

The Leap device is due to ship May 13 at a price of $79.99. Microsoft sells Kinect for Windows devices to developers for $249 but has not announced user pricing or a ship date.

While Microsoft had a long head start in the cultivation of a developer community, Leap has been attracting developers fast.

Leap Motion did three things that Microsoft should have done.

First, it limited the initial feature set to focus on high performance, small size and low price, rather than trying to build a system that could do everything at any distance.

Second, it focused on consumers, rather than retail and vertical applications.

Third, Leap zeroed in on up-close-and-personal use at a regular desktop rather than on activities that involve people standing up across a room.

Combining these advantages, Leap targets the broadest consumer and gamer marketplace: the one made up of people standing or sitting immediately in front of a screen -- any screen, regardless of whether their system runs Windows, Linux or OS X.

Microsoft, on the other hand, is focusing on users in retail, enterprise or industrial settings who will be standing some distance from their screens and who (presumably) would be willing to pay much more for a device. Oh, and it's only aiming for people running Windows.

Leap's target audience is at least an order of magnitude larger than Microsoft's.

If you're a developer, which is the more attractive market?

In short, Microsoft had one of the most successful consumer electronics products in history. In converting it to the desktop, it could have reversed its fortunes in that realm and knocked another one out of the park.

Instead, Microsoft screwed up, focusing on a very small and narrow market with a relatively expensive, complex product that is taking far too long to get into the hands of users.

Microsoft squandered a five-year head start and is now falling behind. By the time the company gets Kinect for Windows into the consumer market, I suspect Leap Motion will already own that market.

Microsoft should hope that Apple doesn't acquire Leap Motion and build the technology into OS X exclusively -- because then it's curtains for Windows, too.


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