Do 2.5 million Kinect units sold equal a Microsoft Hit?

Are Sony's Move and Microsoft's Kinect really neck-and-neck?

Kinect seems to be off to a rousing start, more than doubling first month sales of Apple's iPad, though on par with Sony's initial 30 day estimates of PlayStation Move units moved.

The Xbox 360 motion-sensing camera that can recognize voice commands and lets you shuffle through virtual windows with quick snaps of a hand enjoyed a Black Friday sales boost, according to Microsoft, bringing unit sales to over 2.5 million units. The company previously claimed it sold 1 million units during Kinect's initial 10-day launch window.

Apple's iPad, by contrast, sold 2 million units worldwide during its first two months of availability. The iPad launched in the U.S. April 3.

Comparing figures with Sony's Move is trickier. It's not clear whether Microsoft's Kinect numbers represent sell-to or sell-through, a critical distinction often blurred by companies eager to spin numbers and take advantage of those unwitting in the press. Sony's 2.5 million worldwide claim was initially reported as units sold but later redacted to units shipped. Units shipped to stores don't count as legitimate sales until they've been plucked off shelves and sold-through to customers.

Whatever the case, Microsoft's certainly crowing.

"We are thrilled about the consumer response to Kinect, and are working hard with our retail and manufacturing partners to expedite production and shipments of Kinect to restock shelves as fast as possible to keep up with demand," said Microsoft's Don Mattrick, president of the company's Interactive Entertainment Business. "With sales already exceeding two and a half million units in just 25 days, we are on pace to reach our forecast of 5 million units sold to consumers this holiday."

Microsoft originally predicted sales of 3 million Kinect units by year's end, but revised that figure upward to 5 million, based, it says, on the strength of pre-orders. Of course even that might have been a stunt to drive public perception that Kinect is this season's "must-have" peripheral. Note the intimation in Mattrick's press blurb that the company's having difficulty keeping Kinect in stock.

Hold on, says Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter, who thinks "official" claims that Microsoft's Kinect or Sony's Move are constrained are the usual marketing hocus-pocus.

"Yes, I think both companies would very much like for consumers to believe that their devices are highly sought after and difficult to obtain," Pachter told IncGamers. "That usually works to spur demand."

Demand Microsoft could certainly use overseas. Kinect's not doing terribly well in Japan, selling just 26,000 units during its November 20 launch weekend. To be fair, the Xbox 360's never sold well in Japan, with a roughly 1.5 million unit install base, compared with the PlayStation 3's nearly 6 million and the Nintendo Wii's nearly 11 million.

Will Microsoft hit 5 million Kinect units sold by end of year? Perhaps. They're "on track to" only if December's as good to them as November was. Whether Kinect can outpace Sony's Move by significant margins next month is less assured. While the Xbox 360 leads the PlayStation 3 in the U.S., the reverse holds true in Europe and Japan, and Microsoft's only ahead of Sony in worldwide console sales by a few million units.

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Matt Peckham

PC World (US online)
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