Not long ago, at the mall, I found myself standing outside of the Microsoft Store which is strategically built directly across from the Apple Store. I stood at the window and watched the people playing in front of the Kinect demo. I made a point to look mostly at the players and the strange sort of pantomime they were doing as they manipulated the action on screen. One did not have to see the screen, that pantomime told the story. Pick up the ball from the rack, bring it up to the chest, swing it back behind, swing it forward and release. Roll. Strike! Bowling.
It really is an amazing and magical technology. Think about it. You are using natural real-world movement to mimic an action and it is happening in real time on a screen in front of you. No special gloves, wands, cables. Nothing. Just you. You pretend. It makes it real.
The problem is that Microsoft does not, can not, see it that way (and perhaps never will). They invented a device from the future yet could not untether themselves from the past and present. They could not see the potential to change the world with this device because they are too wedded to the idea that it had to work with the present. So, instead, it is just a toy, nothing more.
If they threw out the ideas and influences of the present, they could have seen that you could stand in front of a flat screen in your living room and manipulate objects on the screen like documents or pictures or folders or email – all through the same strange sort of pantomime. Perhaps it would understand your speech and respond to that as well.
“Open email from Steve.”
“Steve, that time sounds perfect. Thanks”
That would change computing. It would set a bar leaving others to catch up. It would define a whole new category. That is disruptive. That is post PC. That is something I would buy. That is a platform I would invest a lot of money in. No matter the maker. I suspect I’m not alone.
Perhaps that is the most frustrating part to me. I see this future, and all the pieces to build it, sitting right there. We could have it, today, in every room in our house. Walk up to a screen and command it. Interact with the stuff you have there. Naturally. But, due to lack of vision, it’s not magic. It’s a game. As long as the blinders of the present and past remain, it will never be anything more.
There are those that believe that you need the experiences of the past and present to build the future. I’m calling bullshit. If you build on the past or present you simply extend the past and present. To build the future, you must let it stand alone. You must build it on top of a whole new platform. You must create whole new segments and spawn whole new eras.
The very act of invention involves forgetting everything you know. You can’t have a discussion about the future using the words and concepts of the past or present. You have to forget everything you know about the way people interact with a computer and reinvent it, as well, around this new future. Otherwise, you end up asking the wrong questions and trying to see where this new thing fits. And if the new thing does not fit you will find a way to make it fit.
In the case of the Kinect, Microsoft could not make it fit with Windows. They could not make it fit with Office. So, they found a way to make it fit with Xbox. They can’t see the Xbox platform beyond a gaming device. Therefore, naturally, they could not see the Kinect beyond just some cool peripheral to a game.
Contrast this with Apple and the iOS. They saw the future. They knew they had something nothing short of magic. To build it, they forgot everything they knew about the way one interacts with a computer. They did not find a way to make it fit. They redefined the very idea of computing around this new idea. They did not let the past or present inform them. They built the future. And, in doing so, they set a bar. It was disruptive. It caused everyone else to try to imitate. It changed the rules. They created a new era.