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Timeline: A look back at Kinect's history

CNET gives a rundown of the history of Microsoft's Kinect, from the first rumors of a motion controller all the way to the technology becoming a smash hit.

Josh Lowensohn Former Senior Writer
Josh Lowensohn joined CNET in 2006 and now covers Apple. Before that, Josh wrote about everything from new Web start-ups, to remote-controlled robots that watch your house. Prior to joining CNET, Josh covered breaking video game news, as well as reviewing game software. His current console favorite is the Xbox 360.
Josh Lowensohn
6 min read
Microsoft's Kinect
The Kinect. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Kinect has turned out to be a big success for Microsoft, and Monday's news that the company is planning to officially bring the technology to Windows users marks an important step in Kinect's progress as a platform for new types of software and gesture-based user interfaces.

That said, if you take a look back, it's not like we didn't see this coming.

Even so, Kinect has turned out to be more successful than Microsoft originally imagined, with sales that dramatically beat estimates. It's also helped reform the image of the software giant from a company that's overly protective of its creations to one that's paying attention to what people do with a product once it's been launched--even if those uses fall outside the original intent.

Now's as good a time as any to take a look back at how the Kinect journey has played out, from scattered rumors of Microsoft developing a Wii remote competitor, all the way to the motion-controlled camera sensor that's gone on to make an immediate impact on Microsoft's bottom line.

Follow along to see how the product went from rumors to reality, and to check out several milestones on that route.

Rumors and speculation

A mock-up of a motion controller Microsoft had reportedly been developing.
A mock-up of a motion controller Microsoft had reportedly been developing. MTV

5/30/2007: Onstage at the D5 conference with Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates discusses a camera-based control method for games, where people can use real-world objects like baseball bats and tennis rackets to control what's happening on-screen. Little did we know Gates was talking about what would become the Kinect.

4/7/2008: After nearly a year of quiet on the rumor front, MTV News reports that Microsoft is hard at work on a motion controller of its own to combat Nintendo's Wii. That report points to Microsoft subsidiary Rare developing actual handheld hardware, but being unable to meet development deadlines. A few days later, reports surface of the technology making use of a gyroscope and sensor bar.

7/2/2008: Ahead of the announcement of the big redesign for the original Xbox 360 dashboard (which would surface some two months later), reports circulate that Microsoft has rebuilt the Xbox 360's interface to work with a motion-control device.

5/1/2009: After nearly another year of quiet in the rumor realm, Engadget reports that Microsoft is at work on a "sensor bar" that detects full body movement, as well as sound.

5/12/2009: The Wall Street Journal follows up shortly thereafter, saying Microsoft plans to unveil a new video camera that would let users control games with the surface of their bodies. Little is known about timing except that the product could be announced at E3 the following month.

Announcement and prerelease

6/1/2009: Microsoft announces "Project Natal" at its annual E3 press conference. The company provides the first demos of the technology in action, including controlling the Xbox 360 dashboard and playing Riccochet--what would eventually become the Rally Ball minigame included in Kinect Adventures. Microsoft also shows off a virtual-painting app.

Along with the presentation, Microsoft says it's sending out Project Natal development kits to select developers to get them started on making games that will be ready in time for when the hardware add-on finally ships to customers.

Microsoft unveils Project Natal at its E3 2009 press conference.
Microsoft unveils Project Natal at its E3 2009 press conference. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

7/14/2009: In an interview with CNET, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates says Natal's gesture-based controls will eventually be able to work with PCs.

9/24/2009: Microsoft provides more detail on who is actually making games for Natal, saying nearly all of the major game-publishing houses are working on titles. That list includes Activision, Capcom, Disney, EA, Konami, MTV, Namco Bandai, Sega, Square Enix, THQ, and Ubisoft Entertainment.

1/6/2010: During Microsoft's CES keynote presentation, now retired Microsoft executive Robbie Bach says Natal will arrive in time for the 2010 holiday shopping season, though he stays mum on pricing information and the size of the launch lineup.

5/26/2010: Rumors crop up about a $150 price tag for Natal, as well as about news that the technology will be available as a standalone add-on, in addition to being bundled with new systems--all details that later turn out to be true.

The Kinect-specific port in the latest version of the Xbox 360 hardware.
The Kinect-specific port in the latest version of the Xbox 360 hardware. CBS Interactive

6/13/2010: During a pre-E3 press conference featuring dangling Cirque du Soleil performers, Microsoft announces that Project Natal now goes by the name of Kinect. The next day the company details a revision of the Xbox 360 hardware that adds a special plug for the Kinect controller. The connection provides power without the need for an AC adapter, like the old units needed, and also enables the sending of information.

7/20/2010: Microsoft gives Kinect a price and release date. The company says it will launch Kinect on November 4, 2010, with a price of $149.99. The company also says it will bundle the Kinect with a 4GB Xbox 360 console for $299.99.

9/16/2010: In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, the president of Microsoft's interactive-entertainment business, Don Mattrick, says the company expects to sell more than 3 million Kinect devices by the end of the year.

10/18/2010: Microsoft says it will have 17 titles available in time for Kinect's launch.

11/3/2010: A day ahead of launch, Microsoft bumps up its sales forecast to 5 million Kinect units by the end of the year.

Launch and success

11/4/2010: Microsoft launches Kinect in North America. Almost immediately, Adafruit Industries offers a $1,000 bounty to the first person who can figure out how to build an open-source driver for it.

Microsoft responds, telling CNET it does not condone modification of its products, and that the hardware has built-in hardware and software safeguards to keep such customizations from happening. Microsoft also pledges to "work closely with law enforcement and product safety groups to keep Kinect tamper-resistant." Adafruit bumps the reward money up to $2,000 as a result.

11/10/2010: A hacker named Hector wins Adafruit's now-$3,000 contest for creating an open-source driver for Kinect. Microsoft launches Kinect in Europe.

A Mac OS X implementation of Kinect called OfxKinect is demonstrated by Vimeo user Memo Akten.
A Mac OS X implementation of Kinect called OfxKinect is demonstrated by Vimeo user Memo Akten. Screenshot by Josh Lowensohn/CNET

11/15/2010: Kinect hits the 1 million units sold

mark less than two weeks after its North American launch. Independent developers and tinkerers continue to have at the system, creating all sorts of applications that make use of its camera system.

11/18/2010: Kinect is launched in Australia.

11/19/2010: Microsoft representatives appearing on National Public Radio's "Science Friday" show reverse course from comments made earlier in the month, and say Kinect had been left open by design and that the company found some of the pet projects designed by enthusiasts to be inspiring.

11/20/2010: Kinect is launched in Japan.

11/29/2010: Microsoft updates sales numbers, says it has sold 2.5 million Kinect units in the 25 days since launch.

1/5/2011: During the company's annual CES keynote address, CEO Steve Ballmer surprises press and analysts, saying Microsoft has sold 8 million Kinect units since launch--3 million more than its original estimates.

1/7/2011: In an interview with the BBC, Ballmer says the company does indeed plan to bring Kinect support to Windows, but that it will be done "in a formal way, in the right time."

1/19/2011: Citing sources familiar with the matter, a report on WinRumors suggests Microsoft is preparing drivers and an official SDK for Kinect to work with Windows.

Squaring off against Kinect opponents with your Windows Phone 7 device, from the couch.
Squaring off against Kinect opponents with your Windows Phone 7 device, from the couch. Microsoft

2/14/2011: At Mobile World Congress, Microsoft says it will be bringing Kinect functionality to its Windows Phone 7 platform at some point in the future. Users will be able to use their phones to control basic movements in Kinect games, alongside user motion. Microsoft tells CNET that the feature is not set to arrive in 2011.

2/21/2011: Microsoft announces plans to release a software development kit for Kinect on Windows machines sometime in the spring, with a formal commercial release of the SDK to follow.