∞ 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.