Device overhype: the kiss of death

I participated on a fascinating panel yesterday at the (still ongoing and live-streamed) 2015 conference. One question asked by Richard Kogelnig, the moderator, was why have new input devices like Kinect and Leap Motion have failed to really penetrate the consumer market, and what sort of a device would really have a chance at making a difference.

I don’t think it’s a technical problem. I think it’s a message problem.

Anybody remember this video from when Kinect was first announced?

Turns out that sort of video was enthralling as a concept, but it far overstated the device’s capabilities and accuracy when it was first delivered (and in some ways, even now). Kinect is an amazing device, as Penny Arcade tersely described, but it is a terrible game controller. It was the hype of how it would perform in a game context that caused most gamers to decide it wasn’t worth the trouble after first trying it out, and what led to game developers ignoring it unless they were contractually obligated to try it.

Meanwhile, Kinect has found a welcoming home in many other areas, from robot control, to stores, to medical rehabilitation, to 3d scanning, to art performances. These are all markets for which its capabilities had not been overstated or, in most cases, had not been stated at all in the first place. They were uses people discovered once they got their hands on the hardware and realized it could be so much more than a laggy game controller.

What will it take for a device to really penetrate the consumer market? Figure out what people want to hear, but don’t oversell your capabilities. If consumers try you out and you don’t live up to the expectations you’ve over-inflated, they won’t give you a second chance. Don’t overhype and you’ll have a much better shot.

You don’t need to underpromise and overdeliver, but deliver at least what you promised.


Ricardo J. Méndez