Some exciting things are happening in the world of virtual reality, and we're not just talking about the Oculus Rift. Multiple companies are jumping on board with the VR movement, including chip maker Qualcomm, which unveiled its Vuforia mobile vision platform that developers can use to build augmented reality (AR) applications for a new generation of digital hardware.
Get ready to wave at your PC and welcome the motion control revolution on the desktop, Microsoft just made available the Kinect for Windows Software Development Kit (SDK) version 1.0 for download. After shedding its beta tag, the Kinect for Windows SDK now supports up to four Kinect sensors on a single computer, skeletal tracking, a Near Mode feature that lets the camera recognize objects just 40cm away, improved stability and audio, and API updates and enhancements.
Even though Kinect does not celebrate the first anniversary of its launch until November 4, Microsoft is already in a celebratory mood. The Redmond-based software giant on Monday seemed cock-a-hoop as it fondly recalled what’s been “an amazing 12 months” for Kinect, the fastest-selling consumer electronics device in history. Besides going gaga over the “Kinect Effect,” Microsoft talked about the release of the commercial version of the Kinect for Windows SDK.
When the Kinect first launched, Microsoft seemed unsure how to respond to the dedicated modding community that sprang up around the Xbox peripheral. Happily, they decided to accept the inevitable, if not fully embrace it. But now we have word from Microsoft itself that a Kinect SDK for Windows will be dropping this spring.
Windows Phone 7 is a completely new system. Microsoft is taking a risk ditching the mass of (admittedly poor quality) Windows Mobile apps out there. They need developers to step up to the plate to make the system viable. While there are about 1000 apps available as the platform launches, developers are finding some things to complain about. One of the first issues: the SDK does not let developers have full access the camera hardware.
Developing an app dependent on a particular piece of software relies on the SDK having the necessary APIs. Right now, image sensor access on Windows Phone 7 is limited. The makers of popular apps Layar and Fring have both put their WP7 plans on hold due to this issue. Microsoft has indicated that they are happy to have developers use the camera for picture taking, and APIs do exist for that. But the sort of "viewfinder" capability that video calls or augmented reality would need is not available.
It's unclear if Microsoft plans to add this feature in a future version of the SDK. It might be a small omission in the grand scheme of things, but when Microsoft is starting at a disadvantage, they shouldn't be limiting developers.
Have an awesome idea for a Skype app? Well get to it! The good news for software developers for both Windows and Mac platforms is that Skype has opened up its SDK to anyone who requests it.
"We are taking Skype into new directions by empowering consumer electronic and desktop software innovators to embed Skype into their products through the availability of our new software development kit (SDK) called SkypeKit," Skype wrote in a blog post when first announcing SkypeKit in June. "We believe that every connected device can become a communication device, with the addition of SkypeKit. Likewise, desktop applications everywhere can now include Skype."
You have to act quick, however, as SkypeKit is a limited, invite-only beta release. It's unclear how many invites Skype intends to hand out or how long the beta will last.
Paris-based Darkworks is wandering the floor at GDC making some pretty big promises. They say their upcoming TriOvis for Games SDK will allow developers to build in 3D support to 2D games. The real benefit would be that it would not require the purchase of a 3D capable display.
Darkworks is saying that all the 3D-ification happens in the software and the special 3D glasses. Apparently, this means those not wearing glasses would see a regular 2D image without the blurring of a 3D image. The technology will be available for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.
If this proves to be a feasible option, we may see DLC for existing games that enable 3D with the TriOvis system. Darkworks has said that the process of adding TriOvis to an existing game is very simple, taking anywhere from a few days to a week. We are really floored by the possibilities here. Let’s hope this is for real.
It’s all the rage these days to have multitouch technology baked into software. Now Microsoft is letting us know that having multiple pointers could be cool too with the new MultiPoint SDK. The new v1.5 release is available for download and will allow developers to create applications that use multiple mice simultaneously. The SDK could allow groups to work collaboratively on a single PC.
Having a single computer interpret commands from multiple pointers could be a boon to education, says Microsoft. Many schools have fewer computers than students, and sharing PCs doesn’t always work because only one person is really able to interact with it at a time. In the recent demo on MSDN’s Channel9, some beta applications were shown off using three pointers.
While Redmond seems to be pushing education as the big sell, there could be other uses. There are times when a single computer with two independent mice could work just as well as two computers. The SDK is compatible with Windows 7 and Server 2008. Make sure to check out the video demo. If you’re the developer type, the SDK can be found here.
Palm is changing up the development platform for its WebOS based devices. After a short private beta, the new Ares SDK is available to aspiring WebOS developers. While Palm’s Mojo SDK has been available for several months, Ares is different. The Ares SDK is entirely browser-based. That seems only fitting for a platform that relies so heavily on web technologies to create apps.
Palm’s goal here seems to be to get more web developers involved. These people may be well suited to developing for WebOS, but would never go to the trouble of downloading a SDK. Ares endeavors to keep everything one might need in a single place.
There aren’t really any other surprises beyond that. The SDK still won’t allow a lot of complexity in apps. For the most part, you still won’t see software that is as advanced as what we see on Android and iPhone.
Intel said today that it’s much hyped Larrabee graphics chip won’t be happening after all. The Larrabee GPU will exist only as a software development platform for the time being. According to Intel spokesman Nick Knupffer, "Larrabee silicon and software development are behind where we hoped to be at this point in the project. As a result, our first Larrabee product will not be launched as a standalone discrete graphics product.”
The Larrabee chip has already been delayed repeatedly, so this news isn’t entirely surprising. There have been indications of trouble ever since Larrabee missed its original debut in 2008. A recent demo of the chip at SC09 highlighted lackluster performance one wouldn’t expect after such a long development. It would have been Intel’s first standalone graphics part in over a decade, but now is little more than a sore spot.
Intel gave no clear guidelines on when the SDK can be expected, just sometime in 2010. The cancellation of Larrabee has no bearing on Intel’s upcoming hardware graphics solution for the Atom “Pine Trail” chip. Pine Trail will have graphics processing integrated in the CPU. Oh well Intel, you’ll always have Atom.