Microsoft throws Kinect under a bus, slashes Xbox One to $399

Also unties streaming apps, IE from Live subscriptions


On June 9, Microsoft will sell a cut-price Xbox One for $399 – without the Kinect voice and gesture controller.

"We've heard from people that they just like to play games with a controller in their hand and what we wanted to do was make sure that for those people there's a version of Xbox that really meets the exact needs that they have," said Phil Spencer, head of Xbox.

Spencer said that 80 per cent of Xbox One users use Kinect to control their console, with an average of 120 voice commands per user per month addressed to Kinect. "Xbox On," "Xbox Broadcast," and "Xbox Record That," are the most popular commands, he said.

But when you think about it, those figures aren't all that impressive. One in five people don't use voice commands, and if someone uses voice command to turn the console off and on every day for a month, that's 60 commands taken care of right away. People are just not chatty with the Xbox, it seems.

Nor are developers particularly enamored with using the Kinect hardware. There are few games that actually require the Kinect system, and they aren’t very popular. Spenser said that if people want to buy the $399 (£236) package and add a Kinect later, they can.

The new package is a big rollback for Microsoft, which had previously insisted that Kinect was essential to the Xbox experience. Initially, the One console wouldn't work without Kinect attached, although Redmond rolled back that "feature" just before the launch after privacy concerns were raised.

You can still buy the full Xbox One package with a Kinect controller for the standard price of $499, but by offering a cheaper version Microsoft can at least compete head-to-head with the Sony PlayStation 4 on price. Xbox sales have been lagging behind Sony's worldwide, and the Japanese firm is spanking Redmond's console in the US market that Xbox considers its own, and it's clear this gap has some in Microsoft management worried.

Spencer also said that both the Xbox 360 and the One console will now allow people to use streaming applications such as Netflix, Skype, YouTube, and even Internet Explorer on the consoles without having to pay Microsoft $10 a month (or $60 a year) for the privilege by getting an Xbox Live Gold subscription.

It's a smart move, and again one that Sony has used as a stick to beat Redmond; at the PS4 launch, president of Sony Computer Entertainment Andrew House made much of the fact that his console could be used subscription-free (up to a point). Microsoft's attempt to lock down its console behind a paywall was also staggeringly unpopular with a highly vocal group of users.

However, to encourage more people to sign up to Microsoft, Spencer said that Live subscribers will now get a handful of free games, between 50 and 75 per cent off the cost of new titles for the gaming console, and get access to a "virtual VIP room" that will offer some free kit and discounts for other products.

Spencer can at least make these changes with minimal loss of face. He took over as Xbox supremo in March after Don Mattrick left the company for Zynga shortly after the launch of the One console. ®

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