The Case for Kinect

posted by on 21st May 2014, at 8:58am

Microsoft is a company that often receives a significant amount of bad press for one reason or another. Cases in recent memory have been the perceived failure of Windows Vista, Microsoft’s radical interface changes in Office, and more recently Windows 8. This article will not be criticizing Microsoft is for making any of these decisions, even though the motives behind these decisions are very well thought out. Often Microsoft is pressured by consumers to make changes to these products. When Microsoft does make changes, it results in a tapering of the company’s vision that enables a more moderated experience that is appealing to consumers. While this is ultimately good for the bottom line, it does not allow Microsoft to evolve as quickly as they want to; they’re no Apple in this regard.

This same pattern also occured with regards to the launch of the Xbox One. The Xbox One when announced seemed like the only true “next generation” console out there. The Wii U brought another new form of input and high definition gaming to Nintendo gamers. The PlayStation 4 upgraded the hardware and provided wider net connectivity between friends, it certainly wasn’t as bold as the Xbox One. The Xbox One felt to me as though it were a moment of evolution for Microsoft in much the same way Apple evolved when the iPod, iPhone, and iPad were unveiled. The Xbox One not only upgraded the hardware of the Xbox 360, it has more social features like the PS4, it was supposed to have disc-free game play and family sharing, it can take over your TV experience with HDMI passthrough, and it has an upgraded Kinect, the keystone of the Xbox One experience. Initially, I was personally planning on not ever upgrading to another game console. However, the Xbox One has changed that perspective, at some point I will.

It’s not the games, it’s not the social gaming experience, but the Kinect that has shaped my decision. For the longest time I have been fascinated with alternate forms of interfaces for computers. As a result, I am willing to take any opportunity to replace an old method of interaction for a new one. The Kinect is a proven piece of technology both with the Xbox 360 and Xbox One. It is what makes the Xbox One unique and truly groundbreaking. With the Kinect, Microsoft has enabled a whole new era of usability. The Kinect is THE defining feature of the Xbox One.

The Kinect deserves this label because it can do so many things. Have a friend or different family member using your Xbox? The Kinect will activate the appropriate gamer profile based on who is in the room. If there are multiple people, the Kinect can also tell which person is holding the controller. Kinect can also be used to control all aspects of the system to a point where using a game controller is only required once in game. Following from this the Kinect can also be used with Xbox One’s OneGuide to watch and browse TV channels effortlessly.

This is just the beginning as to what’s possible with Kinect. Microsoft has already opened Kinect up to application developers on the Xbox One; as it stands right now, there is no easy way for independent developers to create games for the Xbox One without becoming an official Microsoft game developer. This requires developers to apply and be approved. Kinect for Windows is also available. This enables developers to create applications that interact naturally and can be posted to the Windows Store. The Xbox One needs an app ecosystem similar to the Apple App Store or Google Play. There would be no loss for Microsoft; people would still buy hit games from top end publishers and at the end of the day the Xbox One would see more usage.

If Microsoft were to create such a program, it could be seen as a stepping stone towards ultimately evolving the PC user interfaces that we have become accustomed to. This would end up happening because first of all Microsoft would get experience as to what works and what does not with the Kinect as a user interface. This would enable them to further refine the product. Secondly, users would become experienced with interacting with a Kinect. Most users are leery of new forms of technology when they first appear. A PC with Kinect would seem rather daunting and would pose too high of a learning curve. On the other hand, the Xbox One  is a device that is used leisurely and doesn’t need to have a complicated user interface to perform a myriad of functions. If Microsoft chooses (and I think they did) the Xbox One will provide the test bed for the future of interaction on Microsoft Windows.

It goes without saying that the Kinect is the most important feature of the Xbox One. Without the Kinect, a person is practically buying an upgraded Xbox 360 to play the current games and maybe take advantage of some operating system upgrades. Not only is the user not going to be able to experience great content on the Xbox One, they are also going to miss out on a whole new interaction paradigm. An Xbox One without a Kinect is a pointless purchase.

Last week it was announced that Microsoft would be offering a cheaper version of the Xbox One for $399. What’s missing from this Xbox One package? A Kinect. While it may generate more revenue in the short term, ultimately Microsoft is hurting themselves with this decision. A standalone Kinect sensor will be available this fall should those who buy an Xbox One without Kinect decide they want one. The Kinect for Xbox One should NOT be optional; it was optional for the Xbox 360. The Xbox One was designed entirely around the Kinect.  By not including the Kinect, Microsoft is hurting themselves dearly, not only for their current gaming products but for the future of Microsoft’s software as a whole.

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