Xbox Kinect is Dead – But It’s Coming Back in Your Pocket

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.

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The Kinect System for Xbox 360

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.

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A man demos the Kinect’s sensor system at a Microsoft Store

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.

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The New Kinect for Xbox One

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.

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iPhone X Sensor Housing, featuring PrimeSense technologies

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:

https://news.microsoft.com/2010/11/04/the-future-of-entertainment-starts-today-as-kinect-for-xbox-360-leaps-and-lands-at-retailers-nationwide/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinect#Technology

https://www.engadget.com/2013/11/25/apple-buys-developer-of-original-kinect-tech/

https://www.engadget.com/2017/10/25/microsoft-closes-the-door-on-kinect/

 

9 comments

  1. cgoettelman23 · ·

    Your blog post provided great insight into the Xbox Kinect and the future of its flagship technology. Growing up, my brother was a huge fan of his Xbox 360, but I had never known that the Kinect was even out there. The technology seems like it can be very (very) loosely connected to the AI that is now becoming the next trend in gaming, except instead of making yourself the controller, you are now inside the game. I am excited at the fact that the Kinect’s technology is used in the iPhone X. I’m curious for you to tweet us and let it know what the newest “Kinect” technology is like inside the phone, and if it’s as great as Apple is advertising that it is. Great post!

  2. Great post. I remember the Kinect having a huge hype following its release, and Playstation having to play the catch-up game. Unfortunately XBox could not leverage it’s first mover’s advantage, and sales began to slow as you mentioned – I saw two main issues that emerged starting a couple years back. First, the Kinect wasn’t as easy to use as either the Wii or the Playstation Move, and second, the developers of big-name games like Halo were not integrating their games with the capabilities of the Kinect. With that being said, Playstation Move is not doing that great either – Sony has admitted that the device had not lived up to its expectations. As of now, I think the target audience and the software support is neither significant nor sufficient for these devices to succeed. It’s nice to see that the Kinect software has realized the meager growth prospects of motion sensing in the gaming industry and has decided instead to pursue an acquisition by Apple.

  3. rjacques62 · ·

    Really up-to-date post! I had a Kinect that came with my Xbox 360, used it a few times but never really was the main focus on any of my games. If I remember correctly, they tried to integrate it with Madden to let the player call out audibles rather than hitting buttons on the controller but it didn’t really work that well. Good concept but never really caught on. Looks like the Kinect will end up just being another forgotten step in the evolution of augmented reality.

  4. Nice post. I remember being really excited about Kinnect when it came out, and I’m sad it didn’t really live up to the hype.

  5. ericiangesuale · ·

    Really interesting topic! I think it’s sad that things like Kinect and Wii Fit have kind of died.. while all console gaming has decreased I liked the idea of physical and collaborative video games instead of just the controller. It would bring me back to the days of games like Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero. It will be interesting to see if Playstation will continue to fight for this market with its Move platform! The technology of Kinect was really cool but unfortunately not executed in a UI that was simple, easy, and fun to use. I didn’t realize facial recognition technology would have the spotlight it does now, but I (think) I am excited for the future of this technology.

  6. I’m impressed to see how Kinect is keeping up with new technology, especially the iPhone X. Growing up with just sisters, we never had anything except the Wii so it was nice to learn more about how the Kinect has evolved. It’s interesting how consoles have evolved in general as well. For instance, the new Nintendo Switch has been very innovative. Since it just came out, I will be curious to see if it can keep up its success.

  7. sejackson33 · ·

    I had a Kinect and my family and I absolutely loved it. Honestly, parents might have loved it the most. Even when we had it, however, I would usually still play sports on our Wii. I agree that Wii Sports was superior. I think it makes sense that the Kinect declined as the next generation of kids are growing up playing games on mobile. I’m sure there will be tons of apps that leverage the facial recognition technology of the iPhone X!

  8. mgiovanniello · ·

    Great post! I remember when we first got our Xbox Kinect for the Xbox 360 and hearing rumors that it “records” you and your movements even when not interacting with it. Little did we know we’d be letting in all sorts of recording devices into our lives, whether it’s an iPhone with Siri, Amazon Echo with Alexa, or “smart home” (IoT) devices. I’ll definitely miss Kinect, but I think it’s fascinating how that Microsoft’s (and PrimeSense’s) initial technology is essentially what’s evolved facial recognition into something so successful that Apple can mass produce it in its newest iteration iPhone.

  9. Sheritta Coleburn · ·

    Great post! I had no clue Microsoft was actually discontinuing the Xbox Kinect. I was totally on the Xbox wave rather than Playstation. I remember getting the Xbox Kinect and Xbox 360 one year for Christmas and could not stop playing a dancing game with the Kinect. I think this was the only game that I really leveraged using the Kinect. As I do not use my Xbox Kinect as much as I did before and its just collecting dust, I guess I can understand why Microsoft decided to make this change.

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