Microsoft Rumored To Drop the Kinect Sensor for the Xbox One

One market research firm believes Microsoft will unbundle the Kinect 2 sensor from its Xbox One console as it seeks to boost sales as it fights Sony’s PS4 for domination of the home console space.

IDC included the prediction in a report about how it expects the video game console market to develop over the next few years, late last week. It’s IDC’s belief that Microsoft will ditch the Kinect 2 sensor it now includes with every Xbox One so that it can get the console on store shelves at the same price as the PS4. Today, the Xbox One sells for $499. That’s $100 more than the price of the PS4. Microsoft includes that Xbox One sensor as a sort of differentiator between its device and the competition.

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The Xbox One uses the Kinect 2 sensor to communicate with user’s television sets. This allows users to say, “Xbox, Watch ABC Family” and have the console instantly turn to that channel. Users can say, “Xbox, OneGuide” and get a list of their favorite channels and what’s going to be airing over the next few hours. Users can access this information with just the Xbox One’s controller, but the whole idea is to make Kinect an equalizer, a way members of the family who haven’t mastered the Xbox One’s controller can reliably change channels and more. That’s key since the Xbox One controller includes a dozen or so buttons whose functionality changes depending on what app or service is open at that moment.

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Today, the sensor is used for the Xbox Fitness personal trainer and a few Kinect-exclusive games like Kinect Sports: Rivals and the Fighter Within. Being able to play without a controller is intended to help Microsoft connect more with casual gamers who might prefer iPhone and Android games today. Unfortunately, Kinect Sports: Rivals is about the only full Xbox One game of quality that relies on Kinect 2. The Fighter Within is generally considered to be a bad title, that doesn’t use the Kinect 2 very well. That’s despite the Kinect 2 sensor being more accurate than the original Kinect sensor Microsoft included with the Xbox 360. To make matters worse, Kinect Sports: Rivals only arrived last month. That’s roughly four months after the console’s launch and its original release date.

Some titles use the Kinect to simply enhance what’s available to users with their controller. For example, Madden NFL 25 allows users to call time-outs and manage plays without hitting a single button on their controller.

It’s worth noting that IDC doesn’t believe that Microsoft will make this change in its Xbox Live line-up soon. The firm is predicting that an Xbox One won’t be sold without a Kinect 2 sensor until sometime in 2015. That means that for the next year Microsoft will have to spend time and money educating possible Xbox One buyers on why the Kinect 2 sensor worth spending the extra $100. That’s something Microsoft hasn’t done a great job of lately, mostly because it’s spending all of its marketing money and effort trying to appeal to the hard-core gaming crowd that it feels it may have lost to the PS4.

IDC also predicts that the Xbox One will eventually eclipse sales of the PS4 in the United States, mostly because of this hypothetical price drop that’ll stem from dropping the Kinect sensor from its included hardware lineup. What it considers micro-consoles, or small electronic boxes that users can play basic games off  like the Kindle Fire TV, will slightly eat away at disc-based games sales. It’s final prediction indicates that Sony will “win” this console generation in terms of sales but lose in the United States where the allure of the Xbox One is the strongest.

All told, IDC’s report makes sense but doesn’t exactly hold up to close scrutiny. It’s IDC’s belief that Microsoft will be driven to drop the Kinect from its $499 bundle because it wants to top the PS4 in sales. It assumes that users are simply waiting to pick up the Xbox One until it’s as cheap as its rival. What it ignores is that without the Kinect sensor included in the Xbox One, most perspective buyers might still be better off buying the PS4. The Xbox One is meant as an all-in-one entertainment console, that can play games. Not having a Kinect 2 sensor included would mean that users would need to pick up a remote. Worse, the Xbox One relies on the Kinect 2 sensor to communicate with user’s cable box, audio equipment and television set. Forcing users to pay extra for that completely undermines the point of buying an Xbox One in the first place and makes the console no better than the  PS4.

Finally, the report ignores recent shifts in Microsoft’s Xbox One strategy as far as pricing is concerned. Today, the Xbox One comes bundle with either Forza 5 or Titanfall, absolutely free. Buying either of these games separate would cost users an extra $60 on top of the price of the console. Meanwhile, buyers of the PS4 don’t get a free game with that console unless they subscribe to its PlayStation Plus service. PlayStation Plus costs users $4.99 a month or $49.99 a year.

Update: An earlier version of this story cited Kinect Fitness as an advantage of the Kinect sensor. That game’s actual name is Xbox Fitness.