Kinect for Windows, free software kit to drop Feb. 1

This may be Micrsoft's last Consumer Electronics Show, but the software giant hasn't let that stop it from promoting its products.

In its latest product announcement, Microsoft revealed that along with the retail version of Kinect for Windows arriving on Feb. 1 (for $249), a free commercial software development kit (SDK) will also be available for download.

CEO Steve Ballmer announced the planned availability on the evening of Jan. 9 in Las Vegas during the CES keynote, which served for the most part as a recap of Microsoft's progress on Windows, Windows Phone and Xbox.

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"We're already working with more than 200 companies on unique Kinect for Windows applications. The breadth of what they're doing is mind-blowing from United Health Group, Toyota, Telefonica, Mattel, American Express, and many, many more," Ballmer said of the device.

The Kinect for Windows sensor will allow PCs to be controlled with the same gesture and voice commands that the Kinect for Xbox allows. The device will be separate from the Xbox version of Kinect, which Ballmer noted has shipped more than 18 million units in a little over a year.


Speaking to the host of his keynote, "American Idol" presenter and disc jockey Ryan Seacrest, Ballmer enthused about the possibilities for Kinect on Windows, which fit into Microsoft's overall plans to unify the user interfaces of its many products.

"Really, the ability for the computer to see you, to recognize you, to hear you, it really sparked imagination. And just as Kinect revolutionized entertainment, we'll see it revolutionize other industries: education, health care and many, many more," Ballmer said.

In a blog entry elaborating on the release news, Craig Eisler, general manager of the Kinect for Windows team, said the hardware and accompanying software will originally ship, in limited quantities, in 12 countries: the United States, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom.

"The price includes a one-year warranty, access to ongoing software updates for both speech and human tracking, and our continued investment in Kinect for Windows-based software advancements. Later this year, we will offer special academic pricing (planned at US $149) for Qualified Educational Users," Eisler wrote.

Eisler added that Microsoft has decided to use a hardware-only business model with Kinect for Windows. "We will not be charging for the SDK or the runtime; these will be available free to developers and end-users respectively. As an independent developer, IT manager, systems integrator, or ISV, you can innovate with confidence knowing that you will not pay license fees for the Kinect for Windows software or the ongoing software updates, and the Kinect for Windows hardware you and your customers use is supported by Microsoft," Eisler wrote.

At least for now, Kinect for Windows doesn't appear to support the Windows 8 tablets that so far are the most buzz-worthy aspect of Windows 8. Eisler said that the device will support Windows 7 and the "Windows 8 developer preview (desktop apps only)." (See "The Hardware Behind Windows 8 Developer Preview.")

Since announcing plans to bring Kinect to Windows back in June, Microsoft also disclosed in late November that users would be able to be closer to the Windows PC Kinect than to the Xbox Kinect, which was designed for living room scenarios. Kinect for Windows will include a "near mode," enabled by new firmware that allows the camera to see objects as close as 50 cm (about 20 inches) with "graceful degradation" down to 40 cm (about 16 inches).

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