It seems today is the day that Microsoft finally lays the Kinect camera to rest. According to Microsoft officials who spoke to Fast Co Design, the Kinect had its final production day today, 25 October 2017 – and probably won’t return for the foreseeable future. Production has been cancelled, and any remaining stock in the sales channel will likely see a discount in the holiday season to clear it out.
Although Kinect has been selling alongside the Xbox 360 and Xbox One for ages (since 2010 for the first version, in fact), Microsoft started to de-emphasise the peripheral’s role in their product lineup starting in mid-2014, when they decided to unbundle the Xbox One and Kinect to make buying the console cheaper than Sony’s PlayStation 4. Kinect 1.0 was a simple array of sensors, but the combination of its depth-sensing capabilities and advanced tracking allowed it to be used in many other industries.
Kinect for Xbox One, also sometimes referred to as Kinect V4, combined that work with infrared sensors that allowed the camera to measure things like human heartbeats, and judge player intent by looking at a heat map to see if you meant to wave your arms like a madman trying to play Fruit Ninja. The sensor could track faces and used that capability for biometric login, as well as focusing on your face for Skype calls and the like.
It was such an effective tool in the early days that developers came up with impressive uses for it that Microsoft never anticipated. Some companies built 60-inch interactive displays for classrooms, with the Kinect tracking movement and clicking on objects, and interactive digital signage using Kinect was a trend for a while. Kinect for Xbox One had an advanced array of microphones, and the version for Windows 10 computers was destined to be used as a tool to interface with Windows 10 for those who couldn’t use a keyboard or mouse.
I’ve always believed that Kinect was a gimmick, but I’ve maintained that Kinect had potential that Microsoft wouldn’t ever realise because their hardware team only saw it as a gaming peripheral.
Kinect could’ve been more than that – a lot more – and it would’ve been a big change to the laptop world if Microsoft was able to shrink it down and sell it as a competitor to Intel 3D Sense cameras. It could’ve changed the way medical examinations were done in developing countries that had no access to advanced equipment, and it would’ve enabled Microsoft to get into the VR space nearly instantly, because they didn’t need the complicated room-scale setups of their competitors.
Instead, Kinect gets to live on in their Hololens project for augmented reality, and its technology will continue to make Microsoft’s VR headsets and Hololens kits more accurate. The biometric capabilities are now built into Windows 10 as part of the Windows Hello verification system, and Microsoft will eventually use the microphone technology they picked up to make their Surface devices more suitable for voice commands.
Long live the Xbox Kinect!