Tag: microsoft

The First Official Microsoft Kinect SDK Book is Finally Here!

Mar 02, 2012 by in Microsoft Kinect, News

After months in the making, Beginning Kinect Programming with the Microsoft Kinect SDK, published by Apress and written by Emerging Experiences team members Jarrett Webb and James Ashley, is now in print. The book provides an introductory guide to building Kinect applications using Microsoft’s Kinect for Windows SDK v1.0. It has been on the hot technical releases list on Amazon based on pre-orders alone for the past several weeks.  It then managed to sell out on its first day of availability on Amazon. The inventory, we have been told, will be restocked by this Monday, March 5th, 2012.

Click Here to Purchase/Reserve Your Copy!

Emerging Experiences has been approached before about writing books, but Kinect was the first topic we felt excited enough about to actually want to carry through with such an endeavor. We have never seen the Kinect sensor as merely a gaming device. Instead, we view it as a radical evolution in human-computer interfaces. In the same way that adding touch capabilities to a phone makes it “smart”, putting Kinects in the world is the first step in making our environments “smart”. Rather than a mere novelty, we view the Kinect as a doorway to the future. Beginning Kinect Programming with the Microsoft Kinect SDK is intended to show developers how to walk through that door.

The authors began work on Beginning Kinect Programming with several goals in mind. The primary objective was to share our knowledge of the Kinect as well as many of the techniques we have learned to build Kinect experiences. In this regard, it is of the rare books on Kinect that addresses developers rather than artists and designers. While the book is an introductory book on the Kinect, it is written for experienced developers. The code examples are in C# and leverages WPF because it is the most powerful and rich UI platform. This book provides enough information for other developers to build the sorts of Kinect experiences we build everyday on the Emerging Experiences team. We wanted to share our secrets so others can help us push the Kinect technology to its limits. After months of writing and constant rewriting to keep up with the constantly changing Kinect for Windows SDK, we feel we have met these goals. It is, if nothing else, the sort of book we wish we had when we started our first primitive experiments with the Kinect over a year ago.

Features of the book include:

  • Quickly start building applications within the first 15 pages
  • Complete coverage of the Kinect for Windows SDK v1.0 API
  • A complete history of the Kinect
  • Teaches how to manipulate Kinect images using common image processing techniques and tools
  • Demonstrates unique ways to use depth data
  • Teaches how to take snapshots of users
  • Illustrates how to turn a user’s hands into cursors
  • Details a framework for capturing poses
  • Provides an introduction to gesture detection techniques, including code demonstrations of the Wave, Swipe, Button Push and more
  • Presents an extensive set of fully functional games and applications as well as useful tools

Leveraging the Windows 8 Start Screen

Nov 11, 2011 by in Technology


Ever since Microsoft started leaking details about its upcoming version of their flagship product, Windows 8, there has been firestorm of controversy among Microsoft’s faithful.  Many Silverlight application developers and publishers feel like they have been willfully misled into investing in a technology that Microsoft is now apparently abandoning. Many IT Pros dislike and fear the retraining efforts they will have to make with new Start Screen and other Windows shell changes. Finally, many ASP.NET web developers don’t see how Windows 8 relates to them despite the fact that Microsoft is adding “WinJS”, a runtime that allows Web developers to leverage their existing skills to build native applications.  On the ground, it may seem like things are going badly for Windows 8, but with a little developer ingenuity and a lot more communication and documentation from Microsoft, Windows 8 could be the product that saves Microsoft from being a victim of their own success.

Take the Start Screen for example—In order to finally enable OEMs to build devices that can truly be considered a “Tablet PC”, Microsoft has to provide a way for users to launch applications.  One might be tempted to think that the Start Menu in Windows 7 could be adapted to serve this purpose, but fingers are just not good at tapping on small icons or icons that are densely packed.  Making the Start Menu a full screen experience is really the only way to get enough space to create a truly usable touch-optimized experience.  We in the Emerging Experience group have known this for years as practically every single touch based application that we have built has been a full screen app.  On top of this, Microsoft’s Start Screen’s animations are extremely fluid and natural, and so to us it seems like a natural platform from which to launch our showcase applications.

To give a little background about ourselves and our applications, we are a technology agile group, which means that we use the technology that creates the best experience for our customers. Many of our apps are built using WPF but we also have apps that are built using Flash.  Obviously attempting to port our applications would not be a good strategy for the Flash apps, but even after a brief investigation, I quickly decided that attempting to port all of our WPF applications was a non-starter.  The Metro APIs are far too different and who knows if, after porting the WPF applications, I would even end up with an app that worked?  The solution, it was decided, was to leave the existing showcase applications as they were but to simply create live tiles for them so that they could be invoked.

The problem with this solution is that it is not possible to really take advantage of the Live Tile infrastructure from a Win32 app.  In a Metro-style (WinRT) application you can supply different resolution images for the tiles by altering the AppX manifest, but Win32 Applications don’t have AppX manifests.  It might seem trivial to simply create a WinRT application that upon launch invokes one of our showcase applications, and to use the WinRT app’s AppX manifest to customize the Live Tile, but unfortunately the relationship between WinRT and Win32 is significantly more complex than that.  First of all, WinRT applications can call some Win32 APIs, but it explicitly cannot create new processes—this is part Microsoft security model for WinRT apps.  On top of that, even though WinRT apps can call many Win32 APIs, many of those calls either fail outright or fail to have the desired result.  Clearly this is an area where Microsoft can do a much better job in providing documentation. 

To work around these limitations, I decided to create a WPF application that lives in the System Tray as a notification icon.  The entire purpose of this WPF application is to listen for network calls and then launch and activate the requested application.  At this point our WinRT “launcher” application was simply responsible for initiating the network call and then close itself down.

While this worked beautifully in the debugger, I was surprised to find that it did not work once the applications were freed from the debugger.  Sure, the Launcher application still made a network call to the WPF application and the WPF application still launched the showcase application, but the showcase application was never displayed.  The problem, it turns out, is that the Win32 function “SetForegroundWindow” on which my WPF application was indirectly relying behaves differently if the calling application is being debugged.  Clearly the Windows shell makes use of a facility to show the desktop when the user clicks on the Desktop tile in the Start Screen, but when I asked Microsoft about this and SetForegroundWindow,  I was essentially told that this was by design and that only the end user should control which window has focus.  I understand the wisdom of this decision, but this answer didn’t get me any closer to being able to launch our showcase applications from nice looking Live Tiles.

While I wouldn’t propose that developers do this in production applications, Windows 8 isn’t a production OS itself—and I still hold out hope that will make this whole endeavor moot by they release Windows 8.  With the disclaimer in effect, the way that I solved this problem was to create a third Windows Forms application whose sole responsibility is to run CDB, the command-line debugger, and automate it to launch and attach to the WPF application.  Because the WPF application has a debugger attached, it is now able use the SetForegroundWindow API and the entire system works as expected.  In fact, by not creating a Window in the Windows Forms application and launching CDB without a console window the entire hack is invisible to the user and everything transparently works as expected.

While there probably are other ways to achieve the same effect, this really should highlight noteworthy holes in Microsoft’s messaging and documentation.  First of all, I can understand that Metro-style apps won’t be backwards compatible on Windows 7, but this is no reason not to provide a facility to make Win32 apps forward compatible the Windows 8 Start Screen’s Live Tiles.  Also, while I understand that, generally speaking, it is not good design to allow application developers to control which application is active, at the same time there are always exceptions and this functionality should be enabled/disabled in registry settings or group policy and not be decided in a one-size-fits-all fashion.  But with this said, Windows 8 is actually proving to be a natural evolution of Windows 7 and a good platform on which to build touch-based experiences.  With all the talk Silverlight, Javascript, and strategy, it’s easy to forget that applications are only valued for creating good user experiences and that Windows 8 delivers a great user experience for a pre-Beta operating system.


Getting Up Close to the Kinect

Nov 03, 2011 by in Microsoft Kinect, Technology

As we approach the one year anniversary of the Kinect launch, Microsoft has announced that the Kinect for PC Commercial SDK will be released in early 2012 (http://majornelson.com/2011/10/31/xbox-360-celebrates-one-year-anniversary-of-the-kinect-effect/). More than 200 businesses worldwide, including Toyota, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Razorfish, are involved in a pilot program to explore the commercial possibilities of the Kinect.

Until now, most companies working with the Kinect have been working within the constraints of a research license for the Kinect SDK. Consequently the applications that corporations have been working on have been restricted to tightly held private projects or, at most, proof-of-concept projects visible only as demo reels on the Internet. While most people are at least aware of the Kinect technology, the terms of the research license has relegated it to being an afterthought or something only understood at a distance – a nice to have.

The recent announcement of the timeline for the commercial license implicitly green lights these projects to make preparations for releasing Kinect-enabled applications for everyday use. Over the next year we can expect to see the Kinect as a ubiquitous part of our daily environments and something just as prevalent as interactive kiosks are today. The spread of the Kinect beyond the living room may be as dramatic as the proliferation of smart phones or tablets – one day no one knew what they were and, the next, everyone seemed to have one. In boardrooms across America, the question will no longer be one of whether to have a Kinect strategy but instead what that strategy is.

As the Kinect becomes more prevalent in our daily lives, the possibilities and limitations of the Kinect will undergo much closer scrutiny. The potential offered by a mass produced device that provides a video camera, an infrared depth camera and a four microphone array with beamforming capabilities is vast. The technology can be taken in multiple directions including computer vision in robotics, 3D modeling with multiple linked devices, inexpensive augmented reality, hands-free interactive experiences, speech recognition based in-store assistance and innovative computer assisted learning.

That Microsoft’s visionary strategy in designing the Kinect has revolved around off-loading processing to the operating system rather than building it solely into the hardware means that complex scenarios not currently supported by the Xbox can be made viable through improved software and processing power on computers and video cards, the price of which are constantly falling. Microsoft’s Kinect technology is actually scalable and does not require improving the Kinect hardware itself but, instead, on simply improving the software that processes the data streamed by the Kinect.

This all leads to the inevitable question – what is the future of the Kinect? After a year, what are second generation Kinect applications going to look like? The answer depends on where Microsoft takes Kinect software going forward. The current research version of the Kinect SDK beta shows its roots in gaming. The visual processing, depth processing and even acoustical models are tied to the limitations and optimizations required for the Xbox 360 gaming system. They all work best in a room about the size of your living room and even begin to have troubles in small apartments. The microphone array seems to work well in standard rooms, for which it has painstakingly been optimized to deal with surround sound speakers and audio reflections off of furniture, but appears to have trouble in large spaces.

Strikingly, even though the depth camera is capable of 640 x 480 resolutions, the current SDK only provides access to 320 x 240 image streams. The Kinect SDK, likewise, does not provide depth data information for objects within 800 mm (about 2 ½ feet) of the Kinect sensor even though the camera does capture this information.

There are clearly performance reasons for setting these limitations. However part of the problem also appears to be related to the fact that the USB connector for the Kinect is a bottleneck and has been throttled for the particular USB controller configuration requirements of the Xbox. As the Kinect moves out of the living room and into the real world, it makes sense to leave the restrictions imposed by tying the Kinect SDK to the Xbox behind. If we can use improved software running on improved hardware to boost the capabilities of Kinect for PC applications, it would be a shame to have a gaming infrastructure be the main showstopper.

Nowhere is this more clear than when we consider using the Kinect in the office. As a Kinect developer, I have to slide my chair back and away from my monitor whenever I want to debug a piece of code. Fortunately I don’t work in a cubicle and have some open space behind me. I am also fortunate that my chair has wheels and I have the code – slide – code routine down pat. However I don’t see anyone wanting to use a Kinect-enabled business application in this way. Unlike the living room, which is the natural space of our home lives, the office environment of our work lives is generally cramped and close to the screen with just enough room for a keyboard between us and our monitor. We are always within two and a half feet of the objects we work with.

Yet the workspace is one of the chief places we want to see our Kinects working. And instead of large arm movements, we would like to wave our hands or snap our fingers in order to make things happen on our screens. We want The Minority Report writ small. In order to achieve this, in turn, we need to move beyond skeletal tracking and start enabling fine finger tracking.

Along the same lines, for larger movements, the skeletal tracking capabilities of the Kinect only work with the full body. At the office, sitting in our office chairs, we typically never see anything below the waist. Even skeletal tracking, then, needs to be modified to take this into account and to support partial skeleton tracking at the software level.

As the Kinect is being allowed to travel beyond our living rooms with the upcoming release of the commercial Kinect SDK, the software that allows developers to build applications for the Kinect needs to cut its strong dependence on gaming scenarios. This is the natural future for a technology that is maturing. This is where the Kinect is headed – not only out into the world but also up in our faces. We want and need to get closer to the Kinect.


The Microsoft BUILD conference, Windows 8, and the new UX Challenge

Sep 20, 2011 by in Experience Design, Multi-touch, Technology

Before the BUILD conference, the one thing we all knew was that Microsoft needed a multitouch tablet strategy to compete with Google and Apple and in order to maintain the future viability of the Windows operating system. What we were not sure of was how Microsoft would achieve this goal while preserving backwards compatibility for all of our previous Windows applications in the office as well as in the home. The challenge at first blush seemed insurmountable: provide something completely new to the Windows world while preserving everything that went before.

At BUILD, Microsoft revealed that they have actually accomplished this goal by providing what is basically two side-by-side operating systems. They have also signaled that the primary challenge for application creators going forward will not be technical but rather design-focused. Microsoft, which in the past has tended to side-line user experience, now puts design front and center with “Windows 8.”

One of the two Win8 interfaces is a slightly souped up version of Windows 7 that looks familiar and runs just about anything I could think to try installing on it: Zune, Dropbox, iTunes, Kindle for PC, and even the software for the Kinect SDK. “Windows 8” ran each of them without complaint. The desktop shell works best with a mouse and keyboard, though it also supports and has been redesigned to support multitouch also.

The other is a Metro inspired immersive experience that works best using touch. Instead of an explorer based file system with icons, the Metro shell is designed around interactive tiles, familiar from Windows Phone 7, that launch discrete apps. The Metro shell revolves around a new Windows Store (the equivalent of the iPad’s App Store and WP7’s Marketplace) that allows consumers to download games and apps.

Dual Mode with Dock

Dual Mode with Dock

One could easily think of this as two solutions in one: a consumer platform designed for the tablet and a desktop platform designed for the PC. What is unusual about these side-by-side solutions is that, with the flick of a finger, the tablet user can bring up the desktop UI and the desktop user can bring up the Metro UI. The two operating systems are not something one configures through the control panel the way one might configure a background theme. Instead, both UIs are effectively always alive and always immediately accessible.

Microsoft generously provided each attendee with a new Samsung tablet installed with a pre-Beta build of “Windows 8” and accessorized with a wireless keyboard, a stylus and a dock. The dock is by far the most intriguing – and least discussed – piece of hardware provided as it offers an indication of how Microsoft envisions “Windows 8” being used in the future. A tablet may be inserted into the docking station with a monitor and mouse in an office setting, at which point the desktop UI can be brought up and the user has an experience for the most part indistinguishable from what he is currently used to. The tablet can then be undocked and switched to the Metro style with all the previously running applications still running.

The notion of two different operating systems goes all the way down to the development stack with two different platforms: one based on the traditional tools of Microsoft development such as Silverlight, WPF and WinForms targeting the desktop UI and another, completely new, development stack built around something called the Windows Runtime (WinRT) and programmable using C# and VB with a XAML-style UI language or C++ or Html with javascript compiling to a combination of native and dynamic code.

Initially the expectation is that the .NET tools of the past ten years will be used to write business, productivity and data-entry intensive applications while the new tools will be used for games, social apps and everything else one might expect to find on a smartphone or an iPad.

In a mixed-OS experience like the one described above using a dock, a more likely setup would be a full .NET style business app for the desktop with a lighter-weight Metro style version of the same app on the Metro UI. This allows users to quickly switch back and forth between a tablet and a desktop scenario using the same device. The test of this will likely come when Microsoft reveals its plans for Microsoft Office. We would expect Microsoft to provide both a classic and a Metro version of their Office suite. How well they implement this will in turn provide a roadmap for how other vendors will cater to the enterprise in their software solutions. In other words, will “Windows 8” for the enterprise have enterprise applications for the desktop only or for both the desktop and for the Metro UI.

There is a third possibility also. It may be possible to build full enterprise applications targeting Metro only. The WinRT platform combined with Microsoft’s Azure offering supports this.

The challenge in creating sophisticated apps for Metro is not primarily a technical challenge. It is primarily a User Experience challenge. Can we create multitouch enabled data grids? Can we come up with new navigation patterns to replace the standard enterprise application with hundreds of unique windows? Can we find ways to create great experiences that combine both multitouch and keyboard interaction?

Jensen Harris

Jensen Harris

While Microsoft has been tagged with a reputation for not understanding UX over the past decade, this has seemed to change. At BUILD, the speakers were all aware of the importance of UX while speakers like Jensen Harris demonstrated that Microsoft not only knew that UX problems were important but that they also had the chops to solve them. In this context, BUILD has been a watershed event. If Microsoft has tended to admire and promote smart programming in the past, after BUILD it will become more important to be savvy about design. The days when design could be dismissed as merely prettying up an application are over. After this week, design on Windows is front and center. This is good news for agencies like Razorfish which are strong in both design and technology. It will be a challenge for software consultancies that have only been paying lip service to UX until now as they attempt to establish themselves as Metro experts.

On the technology front, as mentioned above, Microsoft is supporting three platforms: one targeted at C++ developers, one at XAML developers (Silverlight and WPF), and one targeted at web developers. The tack of using web technologies for building native Metro apps for the “Windows 8” tablet currently makes the most sense. A common path for developing apps for multiple platforms like the iPad and iPhone, Android and Windows is to first create a web application that can run on all these platforms, then after looking at web analytics data and determining which platforms use the web app most, building native apps for each of the top platforms. In the case of the Metro UI, it will be easiest to port code from web apps to the native web development tools on Windows 8 rather than attempt to build a brand new project in either C++ or XAML. Again, this type of development is already familiar to digital agencies but likely to be a challenge for other organizations.

BUILD also quietly announced improvements and fixes to WPF in the new .NET 4.5 framework being released with “Windows 8.” This is exciting for the Razorfish Emerging Experiences group as WPF is our main development platform for Surface applications and multitouch experiences.

Search Results for Silverlight at BUILD

Search Results for Silverlight at BUILD

The story for Silverlight is a bit more ambiguous. Currently “Windows 8” offers two different versions of IE 10 – one for the desktop UI and one for the Metro UI. The Metro UI version does not support plugins. Consequently neither Flash nor Silverlight applications will run in Metro IE. This is a difficult position since it entails Silverlight does not work as a multi-platform solution even on “Windows 8,” i.e. it supports only one of the two Win8 platforms. Silverlight-out-of browser is still viable on the desktop UI. It must compete, however, with both WPF – which is more feature rich – and WinForms – which has a significantly larger developer base. It has been suggested that the main benefit of Silverlight as a desktop technology solution will be that, since it, like XAML for WinRT, is only a subset of WPF, this will make things easier when it comes time to port an application over to the Metro UI. In porting from either Silverlight or WPF, however, some rewriting will have to occur as XAML for WinRT actually introduces interesting new XAML features – such as markup for localization – currently missing from both Silverlight and WPF.

There are still several open questions remaining with regard to Windows 8. Two have already been mentioned:

1. Is the Metro UI for the enterprise or for consumers only?
2. What are Microsoft’s plans for Microsoft Office?

Waiting in line for Win8 Tablets

Waiting in line for Win8 Tablets

A third open question is What are Microsoft’s plans for Windows Phone? While the Samsung tablets given to attendees at BUILD are Intel-based, Microsoft’s ultimate goal is to provide an ARM-based version of “Windows 8.” The great advantage of an ARM architecture is that it allows “Windows 8” to be placed on a variety of hardware platforms including smart phones. Currently, however, Microsoft has dropped no hint that it plans to release “Windows 8” phones, however, and the concern would be that such an announcement would damage sales of Windows Phone 7.5, which will be released sometime in 2011. On the other hand, it doesn’t seem to make sense to have completely different operating systems for the Microsoft tablet and Microsoft’s phone. Apple has benefited greatly by having one OS for both form factors and Microsoft strategists, no doubt, are well aware of this.


The Razorfish Emerging Experiences team takes on ReMIX South

Aug 07, 2011 by in Kinect, Mobile, News, Technology

ReMix South

The Razorfish Emerging Experiences team showed up in force for the ReMIX South conference. Luke Hamilton presented “The Interface Revolution”, a discussion about emerging tablet technologies and what they mean for consumers. He also provided best practices for creating tablet experiences and key insights on how to bring these interfaces across multiple devices. Jarrett Webb presented “An Introduction to Kinect Development” providing insight on how to get started building experiences for the Kinect hardware. Steve Dawson and Alex Nichols were “Kinecting Technologies” which recreated scenes from famous Sci-Fi movies utilizing the Kinect combined with other advanced technologies.

While not presenting at the event, the team enjoyed presentations by Albert Shum, Arturo Toledo, Rick Barraza, Josh Blake and many other experts in the fields of Kinect, Tablet/Mobile development and UX/Design.

For those who are interested, we encourage you to download the code for the Kinecting Technologies presentation. In order to run the samples, you’ll need:

Additionally, the voice-control home automation sample requires the X10 ActiveHome Pro Hardware and the X10 ActiveHome Pro SDK.

Thanks go out to the organizers of ReMIX South for putting together a wonderful event. We’ll see you next year!

Watch the session videos here.


DaVinci Kinect Painting the Town at E3

Jun 03, 2011 by in Microsoft Kinect, News

Back in November 2010, we posted a video of a little Microsoft Kinect app we called “DaVinci Kinect.” It’s a prototype we originally built for Microsoft Surface that blurs the lines between the physical and virtual world.

But as soon as we got our hands on the Kinect hardware, we updated the app to take advantage of the new platform and interactions –  as well as extended the technology to recognize hand/figure gestures. With our latest iteration, hand gestures are used to create objects and control the physics of the environment.  The user’s hands appear in the interface which allows one to literally grab objects out of thin air and move them in the environment. Additional gestures allow folks to affect gravity, magnetism and attraction.

After the blog was posted, we received a ton of attention from the likes of Gizmodo and Engadget. And now, we have an opportunity to demo the app at E3!  We’ve been working on a version for the Microsoft Surface v2 as well, so we’ve integrated the new graphics, interactions and a fun little homage to Mr. Lucas.

We’ll post footage of the event next week. Hope to see you there!


Thoughts on MIX 11: Looking Beyond the Web

Apr 20, 2011 by in Experience Design, News, Technology

This year, Razorfish sent several of our people to MIX 11, the annual Microsoft sponsored conference in Las Vegas for developers and designers.

So much happened during our week at MIX  that it is difficult to summarize it all thematically.   There were announcements and sessions on several major topics: IE9, HTML5, ASP.NET MVC 3, Silverlight 5, Windows Phone Mango release, and the Kinect SDK. In addition, there were also appearances from MS Surface v2, Windows Azure, oData and Sharepoint as well as a remarkable set of UX presentations.

Mix11 Keynote Sketch

The word on everyone’s lips seemed to be fragmentation, whether in reference to the expected HTML5 compatibility issues between future browsers (which the emphasis on the IE9 “native” browser experience only exacerbated) or to the greater array of Microsoft development technologies fighting for developers’ attentions.

What the four Razorfish attendees at MIX saw, on the contrary, were patterns of evolution.  The much ballyhooed struggles between the Windows Team and the Development Team inside Microsoft for the future of HTML5 and Silverlight indicate to us that Microsoft can still respond to a rapidly changing worldwide technology ecosystem.  When a product is struggling in the niche it was doing fine in a year ago, it can be refitted to survive in a new niche. Such is the case with Silverlight, originally intended as a Flash-killer.  Silverlight developers never truly adopted the original Flash-killer strategy and instead used Silverlight to develop more sophisticated and interesting line-of-business applications.  The problem is that LOB applications do not really belong on the web.  They belong behind firewalls.  The lack of casual games written in Silverlight likely affected the ability of Silverlight to force downloads and gain browser share.  So instead, the strengths of Silverlight are being moved to the desktop as well as specialized platforms such as Windows Phone, the XBOX (?), and possibly Windows vNext.

WPF, which was once the pre-eminent desktop development platform, is in turn becoming a specialized tool for NUI development for multi-touch, Surface and Kinect.  The announcement of the Kinect SDK itself demonstrates Microsoft’s continuing ability to innovate and surprise.  It is, in the best sense of the term, a fortuitous mutation.

This all leaves HTML5 as the preferred technology for the web.  We of course see the early signs of browser compatibility issues. At the same time, though, we have each been through this before and survived. The extra gyrations developers will have to go through will, in the end, provide the illusion consumers desire – that the same application can run similarly on any operating system and any device.  As one MIX speaker put it, “The technology you use impresses no one.  The experience you create with it is everything.”

Windows Phone 7

Speaking of devices, we are excited to see that the WP7 team is not only going for parity with other smart phones but is firing warning shots across their bows with the much touted Mango release.  Features we’re used to like multitasking are being expanded beyond current implementations with updating live tiles and “Live Agents” which allow for more full-featured multitasking.

There was naturally some complaining about the placement of various keynotes and sessions.  With the multiple announcements and cross-blocking sessions, isn’t there a danger that individual messages will get drowned out in the general cacophony?  We find that the panoply of conflicting viewpoints is one of the chief charms of MIX. Microsoft is not Apple.  To borrow from Isaiah Berlin’s famous title, Apple is the hedgehog that does one thing well; Microsoft is the fox that explores all avenues and experiences.  The great strength of Microsoft is its ability to challenge developers and create new harmonies out of these encounters. Should MIX ever be split up into different web, Silverlight, Windows Phone and UX conferences, we would all be poorer for it since all we would ever get would be our own opinions reflected back on ourselves – an echo chamber effect that will only serve to make us all deaf.

The overall quality of all sessions and boot camps were extremely high this year.  In the past, we have been happy with a 60% success rate on talks.  This year roughly 85% of the talks rang our internal bells. Certain sessions deserve a special shout out, however.

While all the UX lightning talks were extraordinary,  August de los Reyes’s 21st Century Design (10’ 45”) talk took it to a different level.  In the live session, the slide deck itself was the star with the brilliant August narrating it much as Peter Jones was the voice of the book in the old Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy television series.

Despite its inauspicious title, Ivan Tashev’s talk Audio for Kinect revealed what a truly remarkable device the Kinect really is. We honestly didn’t understand half of the technical stuff and we became queasy when formulas started flying across the screen. What we learned, though, was that only a fragment of the Kinect’s full audio capability is currently being used.  Dr. Tashev demonstrated the ability of the Kinect’s audio algorithms to pick out two separate speakers, one reading Chinese and the other reading Korean, and separate them into different channels.  All of this cool functionality will, moreover, be handed over to developers when the Kinect SDK beta is released at the end of spring.

Finally, we cannot say enough good things about Luis Cabrera and his willingness to demonstrate the Surface 2 at work in A Whole NUI World. Razorfish, of course, has a special affinity for anything Surface. What was outstanding in this presentation was not only the beauty and power of the new Surface devices but also the amount of thought that has gone into the tooling. Kudos to the Surface team, they’re reaching for a goal that is more than just a new technology but a new way for people to interact with computers and each other.

By the end of MIX, we were all quite exhausted mentally and physically. It may take us a full year – until the next MIX – to finish ingesting everything that we learned and experienced at MIX11.

So long, Microsoft, and thanks for all the Kinects.


Augment Your Reality with RockstAR

Apr 07, 2010 by in Augmented Reality, Experience Design, Multi-touch, Portfolio, Touchscreen

 

We recently created an experience named RockstAR which features augmented reality and multi-touch technology. It is the classic photo booth experience taken to the next level with interactive technology, social integration (currently the experience posts to twitter, twitpic and flickr), good ole fashioned Rock n Roll and a little 80s video game nostalgia. We also can’t leave out the pink rug – one of the most important parts of any experience.

The application is the first demonstration of the Razorfish Vision Framework (RVF) and it is integrated with our Razorfish Touch Framework (RTF). The experience was featured at several SXSW Interactive Conference 2010 events including the Razorfish and Microsoft parties.

Stay tuned as we’ll be posting a behind-the-scenes tech walkthrough in the next week.