The Xbox One is a fine machine, 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 £350 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 much more practical, consumer-friendly decision. "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 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 (we're guessing that's what it will be priced at when a stand-alone is available this Autumn).
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.
If Microsoft had managed to wait until the Kinect was fully-baked, or at least £100-baked before pulling it out of the box, maybe there would be hope. That they couldn't—or wouldn't—given that £350 PS4s are flying off shelves makes it understandable if still a bummer. As it stands, opting for the Kinect is basically just giving Microsoft money 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'll already be too late.
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.