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Is this the end for Kinect?

News Analysis
Jun 23, 20163 mins
Consumer ElectronicsMicrosoftSmart Home

Microsoft made a great product, but no one—including Microsoft—seems to care about it

The recent E3 show saw Microsoft break with game console tradition. Normally when a console is released, the vendor does not change the specs for its lifespan (traditionally five to seven years). This way, developers will always have one hardware spec to target when creating games. That kind of certainty helps in game development and keeps the amount of patching down compared with PC games.

But just three years after the release of the Xbox One, Microsoft gave its console a massive upgrade in the form of the Xbox One S, a console that will be 40 percent smaller than the Xbox One but will have six times the compute power. The Xbox One has around one teraflop of compute power, the S will have six teraflops, which means 4K video and virtual reality, according to Microsoft.

Notably absent from the Xbox One S? A Kinect port. Instead, it would require a Kinect-to-USB adapter, which will be free to existing Xbox One owners who upgrade. But the message is clear: Kinect doesn’t matter anymore.

It reflects a huge turn in direction on Microsoft’s part. The Kinect was initially going to be mandatory for the Xbox One until gamers revolted because of the extra cost. Also, Kinect was supposed to be voice activated, which caused all kinds of fears that your Xbox would be listening in on conversations in the living room.

No road ahead for Kinect

No, it’s not dead, but let’s face it, there is no road ahead for the Kinect. Sure, you can still play Kinect-enabled games from Xbox 360 and One, which will run on the One S. There is still a Kinect SDK for building Universal Windows Platform (UWP) application, but that SDK has not been updated in years.

And the Kinect for Windows hardware was discontinued last year. If you wanted a PC product, you needed to buy an Xbox version of Kinect and use a PC adapter.

Like Windows Phone, Kinect didn’t fail because it was poor technology. On the contrary, it’s a very good piece of hardware, with a lot of capabilities in a pretty inexpensive package. Affordable motion-capture equipment that doesn’t require you to wear a motion-capture suit is rare.

It’s just that as a game controller, Microsoft never had a killer app that made it mandatory for gamers. Plus, I think a lot of them just wanted to sit on the couch, not get up and jump around. And on the PC side, while there were nifty uses, they were niche and not widely adopted. Plus, Microsoft didn’t exactly crow about these uses from the rooftops.

It’s a strange end to a nice device. Microsoft has failed in some markets, but it always went down swinging. With Kinect, it had a good product, but it just didn’t seem to try that hard.

Andy Patrizio is a freelance journalist based in southern California who has covered the computer industry for 20 years and has built every x86 PC he’s ever owned, laptops not included.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ITworld, Network World, its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.