How Samsung plans to out-Kinect Microsoft

At the Consumer Electronics Show Monday, Samsung showed that it is putting a lot of effort behind its smart TV lineup. Samsung’s next generation of smart TVs will include voice, gesture and facial recognition features that should improve the viewing experience for consumers and enable even smarter applications to emerge.
With its latest Smart TV platform update, Samsung plans to enable “smart interaction,” which will add voice and gesture control, as well as facial recognition to apps developed for its connected TVs. That will enable viewers to turn the TV on and off, open and navigate apps and search for content without picking up a remote control. The system will support between 20 and 30 different languages, using unidirectional array microphones to isolate voice commands and a built-in camera to recognize user movement. The system’s facial recognition software will also be able to differentiate between members of a household, giving them access to personalized profiles, preferences and apps based upon their previous activity.
It’s all very Kinect-like in the way that Samsung describes it, and points to a future where remote controls disappear and consumers interact with their TVs in a potentially more natural fashion. Of course, Microsoft (s MSFT) is only one proponent of voice and gesture control that Samsung may have to contend with — rumors of an HDTV set from Apple (s AAPL) that is controlled by the company’s Siri voice recognition software shows that others may also soon jump on board.
The big advantage that Samsung will have over Microsoft Kinect is that it’s opening up its APIs to enable developers to take advantage of these features. While Microsoft has increased the number of apps that run on its Xbox Live platform — including those which take advantage of its Kinect capabilities — it still falls well behind Samsung in the variety of applications available. Samsung has about 1,400 TV apps available worldwide, with users expected to download some 20 million apps in January 2012.
That app volume comes in part from an open SDK and APIs that are available to developers. That enables pretty much anyone to develop rich content experiences on its platform and take advantage of features like the ability to sync up companion mobile applications with whatever’s happening on-screen. With the introduction of its smart interactions capabilities, Samsung will enable developers to use gesture and voice control, as well as facial recognition in the next generation of their TV apps.
Meanwhile, Microsoft is still largely taking a walled-garden approach to its Xbox Live and Kinect apps — which could improve the quality of those that make it on the platform, but also limits the ability of third-party developers to reach its customers. Unless that changes sometime soon, Microsoft could find itself falling behind as new Kinect-like capabilities are added to other connected device platforms, like Samsung’s Smart TV or even Apple’s iTV.