Kinect UI or Why Flailing Your Arms About Isn’t Good for Menus.

Posted February 5, 2012

There are plenty of people who like the Kinect judging from sales data. I’m a bit ambivalent but I think there are great experiences to be had with the device. The one thing that does get me going however are Kinect menu systems. I think we’d all be better off if people could only pick up the controller and use voice commands. The developers are not to blame for this by the way, they do what they can.

General failings

First off there’s a significant amount of lag that’s just there, from 120 to 200 ms at best. That doesn’t sound like much but you feel it, not only in the skeletal tracking, but in the voice as well. As to the voice recognition, if you’re in an environment that isn’t just you, it’s useless; except to give you free reign to tell your friends to shut up.

The tracking also has a tendency to bug out at times and treat you as a part of the background, throw your legs over your head, or suddenly say that you have no arms. Not to mention the space constraints that affect developers as much as the poor apartment dwellers who have to kneel on their couch. Working with the Kinect would mean a large amount of office space would have to be set for it and measured appropriately.

Dance Central

Often hailed as the best UI on Kinect, the game is still finicky and better off with the controller. This is because of arm drift. The arm naturally moves in a lazy upward or downward direction when selecting items, so it’s quite easy to move up or down the list mid-motion and mis-select something.

Also the large song list moves at a speed which is initially hard to adjust to. These are difficult problems to mitigate given the speed/quality of data Kinect provides. In Dance Central 2, the addition of voice commands and some improved tweaks have made the experience better, but it still pales in comparison to pressing a button.

Buttons

Many Kinect games follow Microsoft’s initial Kinect Hub approach and use large buttons that you hover over for a brief period to activate. They treat the players hand as a mouse. A lot of development work has to go into adjusting the size, shape, fill speed, and how sticky the buttons are. Buttons have to be so large to feel decent, that menus have to be simple or heavily nested. Scrolling through any list is a chore by comparison to a simple button press.

Conclusion

Kinect sucks for menu navigation, plain and simple. Sorry to be so blunt, but let me use a controller and get on with my day. The Kinect has good points, voice looks promising, but precise control is not one of them.