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Why Microsoft won't sell Xbox One without Kinect

There's method to the mandatory support, argues Ed

If there's one thing you can rely on the average, halfway-intelligent and means-conscious human being to do, it's ask for stuff to be cheaper. In the case of Xbox One, there's a simple little equation attached: why not slice a few tenners off that RRP by removing Kinect from the package? After all, Kinect is rumoured (very firmly without official confirmation) to be almost as expensive to manufacture as the console itself, and given the less-than-tremendous state of current generation motion gaming, is unlikely to be among the main reasons Xbox One buyers shell out.

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It's a view I can sympathise with, despite my unfashionable fondness for Fable: The Journey and Steel Battalion. Contrary to public perception, writing about games is neither a well-paid pursuit nor your ticket to never having to fork out for another game or console, ever again. I literally can't remember the last time Steve Ballmer carried me to the office on his immense, avuncular shoulders, or posted any diamond-encrusted special editions through my letterbox. For all that, though, I think those who insist on regarding next gen Kinect as an unnecessary expense are missing the point by a fair few lightyears.

For starters, dumping mandatory Kinect after the example of Microsoft's recent online DRM U-turn may not be a practical possibility - Xbox One has literally been built for the sensor, and it's rather late in the day to go fiddling around at the level of the hardware itself. But there's a philosophical point at stake, too. The crux of the matter is thus: we need to stop calling Kinect a peripheral. However dim your view of the new sensor's capabilities and/or usefulness as a "real" gamer's device, the fact remains that it's now as integral to Microsoft's console offering as the Wii U's tablet controller is to Nintendo's - a day-one core component, rather than a mid-cycle layer of mainstream-courting, market-refreshing paint.

Where removing online DRM isn't incompatible with Xbox One's status as a digital-centric machine, tossing Kinect away for the sake of a price cut means tossing away part of the console's identity. To treat it as a superficial commercial differentiator, easily abandoned, is to misunderstand how Microsoft expects the industry to evolve over the next 10 years. Built-in Kinect is the firm's attempt at staying ahead of an evolving marketplace to which buttons and controllers are increasingly, wait for it, peripheral, forced at best to share the stage with so-called "natural user interfaces" like voice, motion and touch control.

The latter are mainly of relevance to mobile gaming at present - mobiles, after all, generally come with cameras, touch screens, motion sensors and microphones built in, irrespective of their subsequent gaming applications. But you can bet your bottom currency of choice that they'll be key to the console market eventually, particularly once companies like Google and Apple unveil their own, voice or motion-assisted living room solutions.

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This explains the urgency with which Microsoft has stepped up its operations on these fronts - to the point of carving off fixed lumps of processing and memory allowance for Kinect's exclusive use. Where the current gen sensor has to compete with other services for power and is therefore inaccessible in some circumstances, the new version gets a dedicated share of system resources, which allows it to offer the same features wherever you are and whatever you're doing.

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