Microsoft is “delivering more choices for [Xbox] fans,” according to Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft’s Xbox division. Specifically, the choice to buy an Xbox One console that doesn’t come with a Kinect sensor, instead of just leaving the Kinect unplugged or turned off if you don’t like it.
The new hardware bundle will cost $399, and will be available on June 9.
Will it still be able to do everything a normal Xbox One can?
The old Kinect sensor for Xbox 360 was an optional add-on, enabling voice commands as well as certain games (like Kinectimals) which could only be played using the sensor.
In contrast, many features of the Xbox One’s user interface were designed to be controlled primarily using Kinect voice commands; such as the “snap” feature which lets you run an app in a pane on the side of the screen while you’re playing a game, like in Windows 8. Trying to use these features without Kinect is “a mess,” according to Engadget’s Ben Gilbert, who interviewed Xbox marketing lead Yusuf Mehdi.
Mehdi said that “We do want to […] make some of the things that we have with Kinect easier with the controller,” and that “over the coming months” they will make the Xbox One’s user interface “easier [to use], even if you don’t have a Kinect.” Obviously, games and features (like Skype video chat) which outright require a Kinect sensor won’t function at all without one.
Why is Microsoft changing this all of a sudden?
That depends on who you ask!
In Phil Spencer’s piece for Xbox Wire, he says that the decision to sell Xbox One without Kinect is about “choice,” which sounds like an admission that not everyone wanted to use Kinect with Xbox One. Microsoft had already made it so that the Xbox One worked with the Kinect sensor unplugged or turned off, and it sounds like a large number of people took advantage of that; according to Spencer, “more than 80 percent of you are actively using Kinect,” meaning that around 20 percent of Xbox One owners aren’t.
Spencer goes on to say that there are ” an average of 120 voice commands per month on each console,” and that ” the most popular voice commands include ‘Xbox On,’ ‘Xbox Broadcast’ and ‘Xbox Record That.'” So the average Xbox owner only gives four voice commands in a day, one of which is the command to turn it on. (It’s not clear from Spencer’s wording whether “each console” means this is an average across both Xbox versions or not.)
Ben Gilbert writes that “the upcoming launch of Xbox One in China certainly seems a likely culprit in the removal of Kinect,” because of the amount of work it takes to get anything to recognize voice commands in a new language. Mehdi insisted that this “was not a factor,” but also admitted that it “takes a bunch of time” to do that, so Microsoft may begin selling Xbox One without Kinect (at first) in new regions.