∞ The Apple Kinect, or how a bad headline ruins a good story

Those of you who listen to my Angry Mac Bastards podcast will not be surprised to read that I have little tolerance for sloppy reporting. So it’s perhaps no surprise that I’m getting increasingly irritated by a meme floating around the Internet that goes, “Kinect was offered to Apple before Microsoft.”

[ad#Google Adsense 300×250 in story]Kinect, for the uninitiated, is a new $149 peripheral for Microsoft’s hugely popular Xbox 360 video game console. The Microsoft device uses a sophisticated infrared camera system to recognize people who are moving in front of it.

Using video games especially designed to support the Kinect, you can control what’s happening on screen without needing to hold a controller. This is distinctly different from Nintendo and Sony’s competing motion-control hardware, which both requires you to hold a controller in your hand.

The source of the the Kinect/Apple concept is an article entitled “How Apple Almost Got Microsoft’s Kinect Game Controller”, published by Cult of Mac, a Web site owned and operated by former Wired columnist Leander Kahney, who also wrote the article.

Kahney apparently had a conversation with Inon Beracha, the CEO of an Israeli company called PrimeSense. PrimeSense manufactures the sensor technology used in the Kinect device. Apparently PrimeSense’s technology is a commercial application of hardware originally developed by the Israeli military. Beracha shopped the technology around to several potential Silicon Valley suitors before making a deal with Microsoft.

Kahney reports that Apple was one of PrimeSense’s potential suitors, but the company required PrimeSense to “sign a stack of crippling legal agreements and NDAs” before any negotiation could commence. When faced with Apple’s onerous intellectual property safeguards – what Baracha described as “a pain the ass” – PrimeSense walked away from the table and decided to continue to shop its technology to other companies.

I have no reason to doubt Kahney’s veracity. What I have a problem with is the headline of his article, because it implies a situation that is inaccurate and it’s contributed directly to this burgeoning myth which is at the center of my complaint.

To wit, at no point did PrimeSense present Apple with a Kinect gaming peripheral. The company shopped around its sensor technology, which powers the Microsoft Kinect. The Kinect is still a Microsoft product, designed for the Xbox 360.

The net result is that casual readers, people with poor reading comprehension, and those getting the story second-hand either from RSS feeds or what they see and hear from others, now incorrectly assume a situation that isn’t true.

I readily admit it would have been fascinating to see what Apple could have done with PrimeSense’s hardware. I also concede that the reading comprehension of its visitors is not Cult of Mac’s direct responsibility. But I submit that shouldn’t excuse Cult of Mac’s headline. It is, to put it bluntly, linkbaiting. The desire to increase page impressions plainly overruled any interest in accuracy or journalistic prudence. We should all hold the news sources we rely on to higher standards.



  • John Baxter

    Thank you, Peter. Had I said that–as I wanted to- no one would have cared. It needed to be said by someone like you to whom people pay attention.

  • Stuart001uk

    As usual Peter nails what is wrong with 99% of Mac / Apple reporting & stops people including me from drawing the wrong conclusions.

  • James

    ” We should all hold the news sources we rely on to higher standards.”

    Wait, who uses Cult of Mac as a news source?

  • Hari Seldon

    Isn’t this a little pedantic? I thought you were going to say that Apple were not offered this tech first. There are far worse examples of inaccurate or sensationalist reporting – Glassgate for example

    • Peter Cohen

      I’ve covered Glassgate and other lousy Apple-related reportage to the point of distraction on Angry Mac Bastards, and I don’t really care to rehash it here – at least not right now.

  • SteveP

    1. “Hari Seldon”, I like your name!

    I agree there are far worse examples. I read the original article when it was published and came away with the same conclusions as Mr. Cohen. I had no trouble with misunderstanding.

    2. “The net result is that casual readers, people with poor reading comprehension, and those getting the story second-hand either from RSS feeds or what they see and hear from others, now incorrectly assume a situation that isn’t true.”

     These readers will reach whatever conclusions they want no matter what the actual content of the article. Reading comprehension on the internet, at least, often seems to be minimal.
     This doesn't alter my positive impression of the stated intent of "Angry Mac Bastards" - which I had never paid any attention to previously. I will now check it out.
    
    • Peter Cohen

      Thanks, SteveP. Just be warned – we “work blue,” as they say. The language is rated R, if not NC-17. 🙂

      • I dunno, Peter. Even NC-17 movies have lines they don’t cross. You guys whip ’em out and urinate all over those lines! 😉

        As for people arriving at their own conclusions, the problem is abundantly evident by reading the comments of any article written by M.G. Siegler over at TechCrunch. People read the headline and immediately start the bash-fest.

        Most people, especially tech geeks, tend to skim very lightly and form a conclusion without giving authors a fair shake. They also seem to be under the impression that journalism means that you can’t write about your opinion on something. It’s almost as if they expect a spec sheet and nothing more. Of course if you were to do that, they would bash you for reposting a spec-sheet or press-release.

        • “People read the headline and immediately start the bash-fest.”

          You’re right. It’s a common problem.

          “They also seem to be under the impression that journalism means that you can’t write about your opinion on something.”

          Depends. If it’s straight up news reporting, your opinion should impact the article as little as possible. If it’s an op/ed piece, then fine – opine away.

          “It’s almost as if they expect a spec sheet and nothing more.”

          And as you correctly observe, then they bash you for regurgitating press releases.

          The bottom line is that a certain contingent of readers are going to be unhappy no matter what you do.

  • Eric

    Most of the web news sites I visit seem like TV stations in the good old days (before the web really took off). They were fast and loose with the facts way too often. They simply regurgitate press releases, fact and grammar errors and all. They blow things out of proportion simply to get attention and eyes. They repeat outrageous accusations without checking whether they’re true (they eventually might get around to the facts).

    Same today with way too many sites. Just like TV in its day, their business model drives the less then scrupulously honest people to violate all sorts of journalistic and ethical standards. (Check out the goodies reviewers got at a spa in California when reviewing Call of Duty Black Ops, it’s outrageous!) They’re rewarded for hits. They need to eat, and the temptation to use inaccurate headlines to draw hits is too tempting for many of them. And when they haven’t worked in a culture where ethics is taken seriously (serous newspapers, magazines and yes even some TV stations) they haven’t put together the whole picture of why ethical standards exist, and what long-term benefit they provide.

  • Anonymous

    The thing is, there are so many technologies shopped around, that any company will have “misses”. But … clearly this was a miss. This is really cool, game changing technology (not that its new, but the price is there). It is flying off the shelves.

    Also note that Microsoft bought up 3DV and Canesta — two long time 3D companies. My guess as to “why” — not so much for their technology as for their patents. Microsoft now “owns” a huge chunk of 3D sensing space.