Apr 082010

Like a bloated lion, Microsoft waits for other, more innovative companies to launch products before waddling to market, bellowing the entire saunter from their shaded tree about how awesome their product is going to be. The idea being that competition would be discouraged from mobilizing and people who still hadn’t made a purchase decision would be frozen, waiting for M$’s entry. Sometimes they’d make it to market; most of the time they didn’t. Back in the days of Longhorn, an OS that was slated to succeed XP and was heavily promoted with fanciful technologies yet somehow never made it to market, this trick worked pretty well. It essentially killed innovation in the computer and consumer electronics spaces, but what the fuck, it made Microsoft money – or it least prevented it from flowing to its competition.

Nowadays, everyone in tech is wise to Microsoft’s vaporware bait-and-ditch tactics. Yet incredibly, the company continues to juice markets with nothing backing up their claims to enter them besides a “concept animation”. If there’s anything in the market that smells a little like innovation, you can bet Redmond will announce their better, more powerful version coming soon, soon, soon! Commenters in Gizmodo and Engadget spring their collective wood, actually expecting a product to be released in their lifetime. Think Charlie Brown, Lucy and a football.

As a public service to the community, TMA has decided to keep track of some of Microsoft’s “coming soon” technologies that, although are still very early in development, hasn’t stopped the company from showing off celebrity demos and producing very detailed animations of how their “products” will work. I call this service “Operation Vaporwatch”. Let’s start with Microsoft’s latest gaming vapor…

Project Natal

Jun 1, 2009: In a move no doubt intended to staunch the arterial bleeding inflicted by Nintendo’s Wii on the XBox 360, Microsoft unveils a super-advanced motion-sensing set top device with the code name Project Natal (as in Nepal, not dreidel). The device is announced with no ship date and no price, but plenty of fanfare. Its demo videos and celebrity endorsements are the talk of the 2009 E3. In a follow-up confirmation from Ballmer himself, Natal is to be released before the end of 2010. You read that right: 18 months from the product’s announcement. Try to think of a product in the tech space – any tech product – that gets announced a year and a half before its scheduled release. TMA immediately calls horse

Jun 3, 2009: In what TMA will later refer to as part of “the Wonka Factory Tour”, during which Gizmodo editors are walked through Microsoft’s product development centers in exchange for fair and balanced reporting, Mark Wilson and Matt Buchanan are treated to exclusive access to Natal’s 3D Breakout and Burnout Revenge demos. A “small PC and camera that simulates the final Natal rig” are used. One would assume the PC will not come with Natal when it does ship. No specs of said PC are divulged. Also missing is any photo or video of the actual gameplay experience – something that might actually mark the performance of the PC-enhanced units or – you know – build an actual buzz. Regardless, both editors rave about “immersiveness”. The resulting unbiased review is titled “Testing Project Natal: We Touched the Intangible”.

June 2009 – Jan 2010: Redmond is overrun by crickets. Payload delivered.

Jan 7, 2010: According to a statement from Alex Kipman, Natal’s chief developer, Natal still exists and the add-on will consume a meager 15% of the XBox 360’s processing power, or in laymen’s terms 40 dB.

Feb 23, 2010: MTV clocks the lag between body movements and the corresponding on-screen output at 1/10 second. FPS games from 1995 point and laugh.

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