This morning, less than a year after Microsoft unveiled its Xbox One, the game console's price dropped from $500 to $400. How's Microsoft making up for the price difference? By removing Kinect, of course. The camera/microphone peripheral introduced halfway through Xbox 360's life cycle was a standard in every Xbox One sold since launch last November, but no longer. As of this June, a second option will exist on retailer shelves. A less expensive option. And Xbox marketing lead Yusuf Mehdi is all about that option:
"We have 80-plus million Xbox 360 users today who want an Xbox One, and many of them tell us, 'For me, it's an affordability issue. I'm gonna get there, it's just a question of time. If you make it more affordable, then I'll upgrade faster.' So this is an opportunity to really make it easier for them to get there at their pace."
Of course, providing that option is in the interest of spurring sales. The issue isn't that Xbox One consoles aren't selling, it's that they're not selling as fast as Sony's PlayStation 4. Currently, Xbox One is a couple million units behind PlayStation 4, and it's impossible to cite those numbers without considering today's news as directly attributable. Mehdi doesn't agree.
"For us, it has not really been about that," he told us in a brief interview this afternoon. First, it's about that aforementioned choice. Second, the folks at Xbox feel as though, at this point, they've completed their goal of "defining a next-generation console." As such, moving on makes sense (to Microsoft, anyway).
The Xbox One is designed around voice control. You turn it on with your voice. You open games and browse Netflix and everything else, all through voice. For anyone who's tried navigating Xbox One without Kinect, you already know the sad truth: it's a mess. Microsoft is thankfully aware of this issue, and is working on a fix. "We do want to find ways to give you some of those shortcuts and make some of the things that we have with Kinect easier with the controller," Mehdi said. "You can expect to see us do a bunch of things over the coming months to make the experience easier and easier, even if you don't have a Kinect."
The changes aren't coming before E3, but not far after. "We're still kind of working through that," he said.
So, beyond pricing, what else inspired the price drop? Kinect voice localization "was not a factor," Mehdi said, but the upcoming launch of Xbox One in China certainly seems a likely culprit in the removal of Kinect. At very least, it's a major technical hurdle "You have to develop a local voice model for each country. That takes a bunch of time to get there," he said. Should the Xbox One show up in new territories without Kinect, you'll have to forgive the lack of surprise on our faces.
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