Microsoft has confirmed that the Xbox One, slated for release later this year, will not require the separate Kinect sensor to be powered up and connected to function. But Redmond says it still has no plans to sell the games console as a standalone product without the accessory.
A spokesperson said that while Microsoft has scrapped its original requirement that Kinect be on and connected for the Xbox One to work, the company feels that its second-generation motion sensor "is still an essential and integrated part of the Xbox One platform."
"By having [Kinect] as a consistent part of every Xbox One, game and entertainment creators can build experiences that assume the availability of voice, gesture, and natural sensing, leading to unrivaled ease of use, premium experiences, and interactivity for consumers. We also strongly believe that once you try the all-new Kinect and the game and entertainment experiences it enhances or enables, you won't want to use your Xbox One without it," the spokesperson said.
Microsoft priced the Xbox One at £429, £100 more than Sony is charging for its next-generation PlayStation 4 console, also due out later this year. While the base PlayStation 4 package doesn't have a motion sensor accessory bundled in, Microsoft is including Kinect in all of its Xbox One SKUs, which helps to explain the discrepancy in price between the two eagerly awaited game systems.
Redmond's course reversal on the Kinect issue is only the latest change of policy on original Xbox requirements, which were greeted with criticism from gamers. In June, Redmond switched gears on a requirement that the console be regularly connected to the Internet to work, while also announcing that it would not be imposing any limitations on using and sharing games as previously planned.
Both of those early Xbox One protocols were widely panned by media and consumers.
The about-face on Kinect was done more quietly than the earlier reversals on DRM restrictions and the connectivity requirement, however, and needs some clarification.
Speaking with IGN last week, chief Xbox One platform architect Marc Whitten revealed that "the console will still function if Kinect isn't plugged in, although you won't be able to use any feature or experience that explicitly uses the sensor."
That seemed pretty straightforward, but in answering a follow-up question, Whitten described at length how Kinect could be disabled in the Xbox One's system settings without referring back to the idea that it could be unplugged completely. Given that a major objection to the original Kinect requirement revolved around fears that the data-collecting sensor could be used to snoop on gamers, some skeptics have questioned the meaning of Whitten's remarks.
So for what it's worth, here is Microsoft's official statement on exactly how Kinect can be disabled without affecting the functionality of the Xbox One, as relayed by the company's spokesperson:
"We know there may be times you don't want Kinect to respond to you and we've built in several options to put you in control.
You can put Kinect in a standby mode by saying, "Kinect Off." This means it will only respond to two simple words, "Kinect On."
You can also choose to fully turn Kinect off within your system settings. Once you do this, Kinect will not respond to voice commands. You'll need to turn Kinect back on manually in the system settings to use it again.
You can also unplug your Kinect completely.
Regardless of the setting you choose, your Xbox One will still function."
This confusion is unlikely to help Microsoft, which is already seen to be lagging behind Sony in the games consoles market, for the Xbox One and PS4 price differences alone. It has also emerged that Amazon could be set to launch an Android-based budget console, which is rumoured for a Christmas appearance.