Kinect for Netflix is a Catastrophe. Microsoft Has No Idea What to Do with KinectS

"Let's find out how long it takes to select and watch our favorite Netflix movie using Kinect instead of the Xbox 360 controller!" That was the simple metric we wanted to try to test the new Kinect support in the Xbox version of Netflix. I suspected that it'd take a little bit longer to use Kinect's motion controls, but that it'd be worth the extra time to forgo the controller entirely.

I didn't suspect the time difference would be infinity.

That's because the only movies you can watch with Netflix Kinect are those offered by Netflix's automated "Suggestions for you" engine. That means you can't use Kinect as a replacement for a controller to watch what you want to watch. In fact, once you get past the dozen or movies the Kinect interface suggests, it actually admonishes "For more choices and search, use your controller".

What a crock. Kinect is hands down (hands up?) best thing out of Microsoft since the Surface touchscreen table project. A project, you'll remember, they let sit fallow while Apple swooped in and made touch a multi-billion dollar business.

Microsoft has at least 15 million Kinects installed at home that are not being used for anything but games. (And scant few games at that.) Now they launch a feature that people have been asking for since the day the Kinect launched and made it more or less useless? One of the unsung features of Kinect is its excellent voice recognition and microphones. Google can make a phone that can understand my voice queries and convert them into maps while I'm driving down the highway, but Microsoft can't make Kinect understand "Xbox, Search Harry Potter"? (The voice commands for "pause", "stop", "forward" and the like—the stuff that worked in Zune already—do work on all movies, thankfully. So it's not completely useless? Just mostly.)

I'm not trying to be hyperbolic, but I am honestly shocked. I had the good fortune to spend a day with Microsoft's project leads for Kinect right before the launch at the Seattle campus. They're wicked smart guys with a great vision of what Kinect could be, not just for Xbox but for Microsoft and computing as a whole. But it's been nearly six months since Kinect launched with the intention to revolutionize the way we interact with media and the best it can do is give us a dozen random movies to push around before telling us to pick up the controller again? I don't understand it. Microsoft isn't even trying anymore. It's like getting a great project out the door and then letting it rot is their new hardware strategy.

The only bright side in all this is the Kinect SDK, which will hopefully make it even easier for hackers to build better systems with the Kinect than Microsoft themselves seems willing to build. That won't help the Xbox, though—the SDK is PC only.