I’m bummed about Xbox Kinect

At their press conference yesterday Microsoft announced the new Xbox One S, a smaller, slightly more powerful Xbox One console coming in August. It looks like a nice piece of gear, but I’m bummed about one thing: there is no Kinect port on it. Instead you have to use an Adapter (if your existing Xbox One and Kinect are registered with Microsoft you can get it free) and plug your Kinect into a USB port.

This bums me out. We really like Kinect. Specifically, we really like voice controls on the Xbox One for when we’re watching video (I don’t think either of us cares a fig about the camera stuff). So we want to keep Kinect, at least until Microsoft offers something better. But the Xbox One S, like the Xbox One, has only 3 USB ports. On our current Xbone one port is being used by the OTA Adapter (which admittedly is a lot less interesting now that Microsoft has scrapped plans to add DVR functionality for OTA broadcasts), one is being used for external storage. The other is left open for things like syncing controllers. If I were to purchase an Xbox One S I’d have to use all 3 USB ports, and one of them is on the front of the new system so I’d have a wire permanently dangling off the front of the machine. Nope.

In broader terms, removing the Kinect port seems to indicate Microsoft is packing it in and giving up on Kinect. Interestingly the Xbox One S has an IR blaster on the front of the unit (the Kinect uses an IR blaster to control your non-Xbox gear) and it still has a pass-through HDMI connection so they don’t seem to have given up on being your media center.

This summer Microsoft is rolling out Cortana on the Xbox One and you can use ‘her’ via a headset. I guess, moving forward, Microsoft expects everyone will be using a headset to do voice commands. I guess Microsoft thinks the entire Xbox audience is composed of single people who sit alone in a room with their Xbox.

For us, voice commands are used mostly during media playback which we enjoy together. For one of us to have to wear a headset to issue voice commands is just ridiculous.

Of course there’s an easy fix: Microsoft needs to release a ‘room microphone’ for the Xbox One S, or perhaps a media remote with a microphone built in, though I hasten to add that the mike needs to be always listening. If I have to grab a remote and press a button to use voice commands, I won’t bother (I’m looking at you, Amazon Fire TV).

Assuming the IR blaster on the Xbox One S works as well as the one in Kinect (and given that the Kinect is perched up high on top of my TV, I’m not 100% convinced this will be the case), adding a microphone would give us back the capabilities of the Kinect that we actually use.

Unless something changes I’ll be skipping the Xbox One S because we like voice commands and the new console just seems less voice-friendly. I feel like Microsoft is back-sliding at this point in its attempt to win back gamers. Honestly our Xbox gets used a LOT more as a media center than it does as a game machine, but presumably we’re no longer the intended Xbox audience.

I’m really interested to see how they pitch Project Scorpio next year.