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I help companies turn data, ideas and relationships into reach and influence. 

Why Kinect represents the rarest type of innovation

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen me raving about Microsoft Kinect, the motion-detecting hardware add-on for the Xbox 360. In a clear jab at Wii, Microsoft claims that with Kinect, “You are the controller.” Here’s a video that conveys that messaging:

While one might assume that the video is a jazzed-up simulation, a bit of marketing that exaggerates Kinect’s core capabilities, they’d be wrong. And that’s what’s so surprising about the device and everything Microsoft has built around it. It works exactly like it’s supposed to, and perhaps, better than most expected it to.

Here’s a formula I’ve been kicking around:

Back-end technological leaps forward + improbable intuitiveness = landmark product

Let’s break it down with Kinect as a reference.

Kinect is a tech leap forward because, among other things, it is being embraced and experimented with by even the most hardcore “professional nerds” and recognized innovators. Quite simply, there’s nothing else like it available to the average consumer.

Kinect is improbably intuitive because it requires no explanation. Showing it to my family a few days ago, I realized how different it was from all the other advanced devices I’ve bored them to death with over the years. They all required extensive set up, explanation, and training. Here’s what Kinect required (playing the sports game):

  1. Stand in front of TV
  2. Bowl

That was it. Everyone instantly got it. My 87-year-old grandmother bowled a strike on her first roll. I didn’t have to “sell” Kinect—I didn’t need to explain why it’s an advancement, why my generation likes it, or why it beats competitors like Wii. They just got it, right away.

This is the formula that has made Apple the success that it is. From the Newton to the iPad, Apple has understood that technological advancement is only half the battle when it comes to innovation that wins in the market. The other half is an intuitiveness that is almost itself perplexing—how does that beautiful, rail-thin iPad pack than much of a punch?

Products that are too complex from a usability standpoint will never see mass adoption. Products that are too simple, lacking powerful functionality, will never wow consumers. With Kinect, Microsoft has struck the rarest of balances—one between complexity and simplicity, without compromise. I have no doubt it will pay off in spades.

© 2016 Ian Greenleigh