Microsoft recently announced that it is making the Xbox One console available without the Kinect, reversing a decision it made a year ago that the Kinect would be an integral part of the games platform. What does this mean for Kinect's future?
It's easy to understand why Microsoft took the decision to unbundle the Xbox One and the Kinect - the new Kinect-less version of the console will retail at $399 enabling it to compete on price with the PS4. But this is disappointing news for developers who were planning to take advantage of the Kinect's features in Xbox One games - suddenly their potential market has just shrunk and they have all the problems associated with coping with hardware that might or might not have Kinect functionality.
It also means that Microsoft is much more limited in creating a gesture based/voice controlled user interface. As the Kinect is now optional the software cannot rely on voice or gestures to change channel or any of the more sophisticated ideas about where the UI might take us.
Microsoft decision also raises questions about the long term prospects for the Kinect?
In this video that announces the new Kinect-less XBox Phil Spencer, head of Microsoft's Xbox division says:
"we will continue to innovate on Kinect as it is an important differentiator for us"
Despite the establishment of the Independent Developers Publishing Program for Xbox One games development for the platform seems to be the preserve of big professional outfits - with XNA thrown out so is the idea of hobbyist programmers creating their own games. Indeed it may be that games is not the future focus for Kinect. Maybe as its sensor becomes more sophisticated it will increasing be used in other roles in security, home automation and telepresence.
We are still waiting for both Kinect for Windows v2, the standalone version of the new Kinect and the SDK that extends to its new time of flight features. Meanwhile working with the Kinect in managed has been relegated to a backwater - if you want to program it using C# then you need WPF, which is in a state of limbo with limited DirectX facilities. There are third party managed DirectX interfaces but adding more DirectX to WPF makes a lot more sense.
So while there was a good deal of interest in the Kinect 1.8 SDK, the fact that a Kinect 2.0 SDK is unlikely to be backward compatible if you take advantage of the capabilities of the new device is something of a deterrent to actually using it. At the moment we are all waiting for the new Windows Kinect and SDK 2.0.