At E3 2009, Microsoft introduced the world to Project Natal, a motion tracking controller headed to the Xbox 360. Soon after its launch, the Kinect (Project Natal's production name) became a massive success. Within 4 months, the company had sold 10 million units. Over the next 7 years, Microsoft would go on to sell 35 million units across Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC.
It wasn't long after the release that developers wanted access to the 360 exclusive device for PC, and an open source project, Open Kinect, was born. It was popular enough that Microsoft made a PC version of the peripheral, complete with official SDK. This SDK opened the door for a wide variety of Kinect-powered products. At CES over the years we have seen products ranging from beauty to fitness. I was personally involved in a prototype for a health product.
This week, Microsoft confirmed that the Kinect's run has come to an end. No new inventory is being produced, so any inventory that is in the wild is all that is left, meaning that if you are in the market for a Kinect, get it now. This is not to say the technology itself is dead, however. The technology that powers the Kinect has been incorporated into Windows Mixed Reality headsets, or perhaps it's more accurate to say that a version 3 is incorporated.
The question that this leaves is, what about the independent projects that rely on Kinect? Losing the device is going to mean that the products or services either have to be retired, rely on used hardware for as long as it can be found, or rewritten entirely to support divergent hardware. The problem with the last option is that it assumes that it is possible to find another piece of hardware with comparable features, which is getting harder to do. The main competitor, Intel's RealSense, seems to have been discontinued for standalone cameras as well.
With a vacuum emerging, it could mean that another company could license an existing technology, like Kinect or RealSense, or produce their own technology that is compatible for product companies. As for now, it seems Windows Hello and Windows Mixed Reality is what is left of 3D tracking.