Big news on the console front today: Microsoft announced it would issue a less expensive version of their new console that would come without the Kinect peripheral. The pared-down console will go on sale from June 9. In addition, they are offering more content to Xbox One owners and prospective buyers who might be torn about the loss of Kinect.
For the uninitiated, Kinect is a peripheral camera, microphone and motion detection system in one. This is the device that hears your voice and reads your movements to allow for scrolling through the Xbox user interface and motion sensor gameplay. The Kinect notices who comes into the room, listens to their voice and follows their commands. It is very versatile and intuitive, allowing players to navigate through menus with a wave of their palm and resume playing as easily as one might say “pass the controller.”
Some users were alarmed at the extent to which the system was linked to the internet. It has been compared to the eye of Sauron or the beginning of Skynet, plugged into living rooms everywhere, watching human movements and waiting in silence for one of its commanders to issue an order. The Xbox 360 Kinect version purchased alone initially retailed for about $100. Microsoft has not released a price point for the new Xbox One standalone, nor a concrete date. It will not be available for separate purchase on June 9.
In conjunction with the removal of the peripheral, Microsoft is also taking Netflix, Hulu and other streaming services out from behind their online paywall. Unlike on Playstation, an Xbox Live: Gold membership was required to use these console apps. Consumers were likely not happy to get stuck with an additional layer of fees to use apps that are free with the purchase of a Roku, Wii U or Playstation. Gold is the Playstation Network PS Plus equivalent, though it came to the market three years after Sony’s offering. Both services offer a plethora of games for a nominal fee, but only now is Microsoft admitting that their fees tied to online streaming applications are out of line with the competition.
This announcement comes right before the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), one of the most important events in the industry. This is where companies come to cement future promotion for upcoming projects. Microsoft’s address of these issues before they are standing in front of a crowd of reporters leaves two less targets for media to mock. Considering Xbox One’s poor performance in sales compared to PS4, followers of the industry might speculate what the removal of the peripheral will do for the struggling system. On one hand, consumers who balked at the $500 price point might feel more comfortable with something in the range of the PS4 at $399.
However, there is a chance the removal of Kinect could hurt the new Xbox. Forget for a second, that Microsoft’s plan for the system has totally changed. They dropped their hard stance against indie developers and this latest move stomps on the crushed carpet of their ‘always kinected’ campaign. Its interactivity and motion sensing capabilities were major selling point of the system. Without them, comparisons to the PS4 are not necessarily favorable, since Sony’s system has more powerful graphics capabilities due to a superior GPU and RAM. The world is still awaiting the DirectX 12 upgrade that could take Xbox One graphics to the next level. Will an increased number of Kinect-less console sales further discourage developers from building for the Xbox add-on? Players and publishers alike will have to wait and see in the coming months. Microsoft’s decision to lose the Kinect and sell a standalone Xbox One is at least welcomed by all those still a few dollars short of the bundle.
By Aliya Tyus-Barnwell