MS to challenge interactive web with kinect controlling JS library


Latest post by LongZheng reveals MS Research’s plans to ship JS library for kinect-enabled website. We already mentioned this in our twitter, but today’s little article will take a look at opportunities that this fact brings to the market.

Kinect has been a revolutionary addition for XBOX and sold millions of copies first year, becoming the fastest selling product in Microsoft’s history. Although, I didn’t like the release name (codename: “Project Natal” was much smoother to our ears), we all now take it for granted. There are still no hardcore games for Kinect, titles like Sesame street (a must-notice title for parents out there) and Kinect adventures are great for kids so they sell well, while Dance Central series popularize this device as an entertainment.

It is said, that Microsoft gets in a right vibe on the third time. Kinect sold more than 18 million devices in 1.5 years, but the development for 3rd parties has been limited due to lack of experience. However, consumers love and use Kinect voice more than Kinect-gestured controls, simply because of the accuracy and easiness. “XBOX Pause/Play/Search” words are much more comfortable, than trying to swipe left and right with your hands in attempt to make a menu scroll.

Kinect for Windows Release and the Beginning of Kinect Hacks

In February 2012, Microsoft released Kinect for Windows, with improved sensors and SDK. And while many people were skeptic about the reception, partially because of the higher price, researchers and developers loved that they wouldn’t need xbox to play around with Kinect anymore. Thus, PC/MAC-based experiments started to crowd coding4fun section at channel9.

We remember first example Kinect-enabled virtual fitting room in Topshop, Moscow. That was really cool. Accuracy was average, but the customers loved to see if the dress fits their style without trying it on. And of course – social network sharing.

FakeCake Dressing Room

Kinect SDK made it pretty easy to track body parts moving.

There are 20 parts that kinect can track:

  • left foot, right foot
  • left ankle. right ankle
  • left knee, right knee
  • left hip, right hip
  • hip center
  • spine
  • shoulder center
  • left shoulder, right shoulder
  • left elbow, right elbow
  • left wrist, right wrist
  • left hand, right hand
  • head

It’s an initiative of MS Research, to ship the library. No further details revealed, since it’s only a peek.

Since its first appearance as a companion for Augmented Reality (AR), Kinect is quickly growing as a must for various digital media events. Mostly these are digital kiosks for interactive advertising. There are tons of articles and case studies written about how Kinect is used in advertising, but the post mentioned above expands the development part, merging kinect-enabled web and application development together.

Opportunity to Jump In for Web Developers

Today’s approach for developing Kinect applications is the same as any other involving sensors: you take the SDK, create an app, connect the device and test it, get the data you need. JavaScript library for Kinect-enabled websites could help merging the application development, limiting the functionality but making the solution more universal. Just imagine: you create a website with an interactive kinect-enabled module. Of course, talking about Microsoft’s piece of technology, we get a platform limitation: feature is IE only. Features are delivered via ActiveX, and that means no support for other browsers. Good news: IE9 and 10 are much better than the older versions and are capable of rendering great websites (almost) correctly.

This website would provide the same content both for common users, as well as for the interactive user group. No need to develop a special app, just integrate your module into the website and place a giant display onto the windows: engage your users via interaction and create unified experience both on interactive and common web browsing sides.

This in fact could engage many web developers to experiment with the controller and to position the Web as a great place for Kinect Hacks and Tricks. We will definitely follow the story.

Read this:

Microsoft Research to ship Kinected Browser JavaScript library for Kinect-enabled websites
Interactive Tabletops and Surfaces Conference
Kinect Controlled SwimBrowser
Microsoft Research, Kinected Browser
Kinected Browser: Depth Camera Interaction for the Web 

AWESOME! Microsoft’s Speech Recognition and Instant Same Tonal Voice Translation

Having worked in the sound recognition field in mobile space (bird sounds) I know about this hard process a bit. Mostly I was using predefined algorithms and just implemented them in c#, but my poor knowledge and puny brain would never do such amazing stuff!

Natural UI comes to life! You can always see that some awesome MS Research powered speech recognition displayed on MS keynotes almost in real-time, but yesterday’s article on The Next Web highlighted the new addition to that wonderful feature: same voice tone speech translation in Mandarin! Check this out!

Source: Microsoft Demos Amazing English to Mandarin Translation, Allowing for Real-Time Audible Translations

Apple moves to ARM? No way in at least the next 4 years!

7 years ago Apple announced that they would be moving from PowerPCs to Intel’s x86 CPUs in two years because they had been producing less heat and running much faster (PowerPCs were built by IBM. The 8-core version of this chip also powers PlayStation 3 ). This was a very dangerous step, which definitely brought massive boost in performance for Apple products, but caused additional emulation layer to run the legacy applications.

Apple previously made a transition from Motorola’s 68K to PowerPC architecture, and included Motorola 68K emulator to run legacy apps. The same happened when Apple started using Intel chips, instead of IBMs in 2005 – the additional layer to run the older code was called Rosetta. Will it really be that painful, if Apple would change the architecture one more time?

This week brought us not only MS Office for Android and iOS confirmation, but also an article by Bloomberg, whose informer claims that Apple is thinking about moving from Intel chips to ARM ones, particulartly A6X to their Mac product line. Why is this really important?

This could be the biggest shift in Mac history.

Literally. The Macs now are the second biggest ecosystem and Intel chips helped Apple with the desktop expansion. Apple’s marketshare in PC reached 7.59%, and more than 12 million Macs were sold in 2011. That is a huge number for a single OEM with vertical infrastructure (it’s when a company maintains full-cycle production for its products: both develops software and designs, as well as produces the hardware). iOS domination in mobile space significantly helped in gaining worldwide market share. Apple took a clever way of delivering incremental updates to simplify and improve the OS. Even more: the design unification across all Apple’s devices made it very compelling to start using a Mac, if you already had an iPhone or iPad.

Source: StatCounter Global Stats – Operating System Market Share

Backwards compatibility (running current OS X apps) and mobile development

Some might say that Apple is not a freshman in architecture shifts, but moving from x86 can result in a big performance drop.

  • ARM processors are not as advanced as x86 (Intel core architecture)
  • ARM only plans to start 64 bit versions chips production in 2014 with AMD (64 bit version will deliver huge boost in performance for the same power consumption)
  • Good news: ARM already supports out-of-order execution, unlike Intel’s Atom processors (Next Gen atoms confirmed to support this feature)

There is a good chance, that Apple is already testing some prototypes deep inside its labs, but it’s a huge work on optimization to be performed, and the OS could become fragmented. As it is with Windows 8 on x86 and limited Windows RT on ARM.

ARM-supported version of OS X should include an emulator-cushion, same as Rosetta, Apple provided for PowerPC => x86 transition. AllthingsDigital states that there is an example: Russian Company successfully runs x86 software on ARM.

Such scenarios could happen: development-wise it’s Cocoa for the UI. And the app that calls windows will still do that on ARM version. Apple has developed an awesome IDE that simplifies the process of development between OS X and iOS. But running x86 code on ARM with the emulator could help if we’re talking about the simple applications that call the standard UI libraries and common stuff like that.

High-performance applications

But let’s turn to the elefant in the room: what will happen with the low-level applications? You can’t run Photoshop in emulator. Neither 3d Max, Office and many more. Meanwhile, these apps are crucial when it comes to the professionals working on Macs (mainly Macbook Pro / iMac). That’s why we are not that clear about porting a full-featured OS X to ARM. These apps will be needed to be fully re-written for the new OS.

Layers, OS X

One might argue that developers and customers still would buy new Macs so that they would create a market. And if a developer wouldn’t want to re-write an app, then money-hungry competitors would occupy the sunny spot and get all the money. The obvious issue is whether you could per se run a full 3D rendering suite on ARM. Right now there’s no way you could do that. We’re talking about something like 3DMax, Photoshop in particular.

We’d also like to point out high-performance games. We’re not talking about the hits like Shadowgun and Infinity Blade. Even if Infinity Blade is built on Unreal Engine, that doesn’t mean that it uses the fully featured one like on PC / XBOX. It’s a special ARM version, because ARM architecture is not capable of rendering complex shadows / advanced lightening / fully featured particles.

Macs just started to gain some traction in gaming space, you can see huge titles across Mac App Store, but ARM move will kill the gaming culture in Mac space. Same applies to Steam.

And one last thing: no Parallels for ARM.

Some more quick points

IDE & development ecosystem unification:

  • iOS developers gallore. We can bet – a lot of developers will emerge from iOS and help OS X in gaining apps
  • Desktop developers will get even easier porting. iOS userbase is much better than OS X’s. This could trigger even more great apps of iOS and further iOS growth (possible solution to compete with Android in the future)

iMac / MacBook for Work and Macbook Air differentiation

  • Macbook Air is the best selling Apple PC. Most people use it as a device to access the web, mail, office. Good candidate to include an ARM chip. As a result: much lighter and thinner gorgeous looking laptop, with no vents at all
  • MacBook Pro and iMac could be left for professional use (music / video editing / rendering / photos) with x86 chips
  • Possible creation of a whole new line of Macbooks for content consumption and text editing as an alternative to the MacBook Air

ARM is dominating in mobile world with almost no room left for the competitors. The latest collaboration with Google and Samsung is the new Chromebook, an affordable and very limited in functionality laptop for just $249. No wonder ARM wants to bite a piece of Intel’s market share, especially datacenters and servers. ARM CEO is confident in his company and promises even more amazing computing power to come in the nearest future.

These are the scenarios we can think of, when discussing such rumors. This in fact could be a mass hit: Microsoft was able to lower the power consumption and reach 10-hour battery life with x86 tablets. We are really living in a very interesting world.

Read this:

“Apple Said to Be Exploring Switch From Intel for Mac”, Bloomberg Original Article

Apple Looking to Drop Intel Chips From Mac Computers [REPORT], Mashable

Will Apple Switch the Mac to ARM? Why the Rumors Do — And Don’t — Ring True, AllthingsDigital

ARM Chief: It’s a bit early to write Intel’s obituary, AllthingsDigital