The Xbox One is a fine machine — great even — but it's nothing compared to what it was supposed to be. Reluctant backtrack after reluctant backtrack has left us a box that does a shadow of what it might have done. And with a new Kinect-free Xbox One bundle, Microsoft is fully burying those dreams and all but spitting on the grave.
This day has been coming ever since Kinect
kinection connection ceased to be mandatory. A Kinect-free bundle that can do direct battle with the $549 PS4 has been in the cards from the get-go. The question was how soon, whether Microsoft could hold course long enough to make make the Kinect really matter before changing its tune. The answer seems to be "soon" and "nope" respectively.
No, this isn't actually a decision to abandon Kinect. Not on its face, anyway. We had the chance to talk to Phil Spencer, the head of Microsoft's Xbox division, who framed the new bundle as a practical, consumer-friendly decision. And it totally is! "It's about giving consumers choice at retail" he told me "and not a long-term change in direction." The Kinect lives on! Microsoft's plans for continuing and more advanced camera and voice integration for the Xbox One aren't changing!
BUT. But but but! They will. Oh they will. "The choice that gamers make going forward will change the future" Spencer told me, and it's not hard to see what that choice is going to be: The cheaper one. The one without the extra $100 dohickey that could be great and cool but isn't yet and now probably never will be. And rightly so; A Kinect is not worth $100. Not right now.
That's the problem with the Kinect — with the Xbox One on the whole; it's not fully formed. The launch Xbox One had its fair share of jank, but the glimmers of awesomeness that got through were revelatory, and the Kinect is/was a cornerstone of the Star-Trek-computer future the Xbox could have made real. It's really impressive hardware that hadn't been put to use right just yet. Imagine Cortana in your living room. Imagine! It may still happen, but cool, Kinect-integrated stuff like that will soon be less likely than it's ever been.
If Microsoft had managed to wait until the Kinect was fully baked, maybe there would be hope for its future. That Microsoft couldn't — or wouldn't — given that $549 PS4s are flying off shelves makes this choice understandable if still a bummer. It's great that more Xbox Ones will make it into more living rooms. Stuff like the Xbox One's cable-control is still pretty rad and innovated without voice or camera. But the apex of functionality for Kinect is going to wind up lower than it might have been.
As it stands, opting for the Kinect is basically just giving Microsoft $100 in hopes they won't throw it away. That's not something any customer should be asked to do. Sure, you'll be able to buy a stand-alone Kinect later if you really want one, but by then it will already be too late. Microsoft is giving gamers a choice and robbing the Kinect of its future in one fell swoop.
By offering gamers an option right now, before the Kinect is ready to walk briskly much less run, Microsoft is setting it up for a faceplant, and at the same time grooming the excuse that Well, it's just not what the gamers wanted. And no, of course it's not. Because it never got the chance to be.