The Xbox Kinect is no more. Or is it?
Microsoft announced last week that manufacturing of the Kinect accessory for the Xbox platform would cease. The Kinect was introduced as the “future of entertainment” at a Microsoft event in June 2009 as an accessory to the Xbox 360, a last-generation game console. Kinect made it possible to play Xbox without the controller – you become the controller. Microsoft promised Kinect would totally transform entertainment and make Xbox available to the whole family. Popular Mechanics even noted the Kinect as a “breakthrough innovation” that would usher in a new era of entertainment. Kinect would later be adapted for use on Xbox One, the current Xbox console.
The Kinect was a short but wide camera array that sat atop your TV or TV stand and connected to the Xbox console. Kinect devices used a combination of Microsoft-built hardware and software, including a special chipset developed by the Israeli firm PrimseSense (more on this later) which allowed for 3D scanning of objects nearby. The device’s software was able to track gestures and recognize faces and voices of up to six people at once.
Kinect was generally received well, with one reviewer from IGN saying that “Kinect can be a tremendous amount of fun for casual players, and the creative, controller-free concept is undeniably appealing.” There were some complaints about the speed of gesture recognition and the large amount of space that Kinect took up, but the main complaint was the $150 price tag. Given that the Xbox 360 on its own cost only $200, the Kinect purchase was significant. The product was also criticized for its use in mostly niche-type games and was not able to be used in many mainstream shooter or sports games.
I remember when friends of mine first got their hands on Kinect systems (I was a PlayStation user and had no interest in Kinect) and repeatedly invited friends over to play with the system. Whether we were playing a dancing game or trying out Kinect Sports (which, by the way, was inferior in many ways to Wii Sports), Kinect got us up out of our seats to try a new way of gaming.
Kinect claimed the Guinness World Record of being the fastest selling consumer electronics device, having sold eight million devices in the first sixty days. Kinect had to compete with other motion controllers such as the Wii Remote Plus, PlayStation Move and PlayStation Eye. Microsoft has sold about 35 million Kinect systems since 2010.
A newer version of Kinect was bundled with the Xbox One at its original launch. The Kinect bundled with the Xbox One did not use PrimeSense’s technology, but rather technology developed in-house by Microsoft. In order to save on costs and encourage users to select the Xbox One over the PlayStation 4, Microsoft debundled the Kinect and once again added the Kinect as an add-on to be purchased later. Microsoft later reported that as much as 80% of Xbox One users were actively using their Kinect, but lagging add-on sales meant usership was dropping.
Fast forward to October 25, 2017. Microsoft announces they are ending production of Kinect. The Kinect is no more. Or is it?
Remember that Israeli firm, PrimeSense, mentioned earlier? They were acquired by Apple in 2013 in an effort to bolster facial recognition technology experts. At the time, Apple commented and said that “Apple buys smaller technologies from time to time, and we generally do not discuss our purpose or plans.” Well, in 2017, we finally know what they were up to when they reportedly spent $345 million on the 3D sensing technology firm.
The technology used in the Kinect, now an accessory of yesterday, is now being used in Apple’s new flagship iPhone X as a method of secure authentication. Specifically, Apple is using the algorithms they acquired from PrimeSense in the depth-sensing camera array that are part of the iPhone X’s Face ID system. Apple’s Face ID system uses a combination of an infra-red camera, an invisible dot projector, and a “flood illuminator” which allows the system to identify a user’s face. If you want to think about this system in terms of the Kinect, just imagine the small notch at the top of the iPhone is a mini Kinect system – albeit a far more advanced one.
So, although Kinect may be dying in its original form, the technology will live on. Microsoft is continuing to use the hardware and software they used in the Kinect for Xbox One in their augmented reality headset project called Hololens. The original Kinect software, now being used by Apple, will certainly see even more applications as Apple begins to abandon the large bezel and home button in favor of the full display and Face ID if its implementation on iPhone X is successful.
What are your thoughts on the downfall of Kinect? Did you have one?
What about the iPhone X? Did you order one? Mine comes on Friday, I’ll be sure to Tweet #IS6621 on everything iPhone X once I get my hands on it!
Leave your comments below.
For more information on Kinect and iPhone X’s Face ID, see these resources: