Kinect does not, in fact, have to be plugged into the Xbox One for the console to function, Microsoft's Marc Whitten has revealed as part of an IGN AMA. That said, the console is "designed" to work with Kinect plugged in, and PR boss Albert Penello says that Microsoft "isn't interested in splitting the development base" - implying that there's still no chance Xbox One will ship without a Kinect sensor included.
"Xbox One is designed to work with Kinect plugged in," Whitten told IGN. "It makes gaming better in many ways - from the ability to say "Xbox On" and get right to your personalized homescreen, to the ability to control your TV through voice, Smartglass and more.
"Kinect allows you to search for your content, instantly move between games and your personalized dash and more with just your voice. Kinect helps you pick up and play by automatically knowing which controller you have in your hands. No more need to interrupt your friends game or navigate through multiple UI screens to sign in and tell the system which controller you are holding.
"It will even bind the controller to the console if its currently unbound - no searching for special buttons! Of course - these are just a few of the system wide benefits of having Kinect. Games use Kinect in a variety of amazing ways from adding voice to control your squad mates to adding lean and other simple controls beyond the controller to full immersive gameplay.
"That said, like online, the console will still function if Kinect isn't plugged in, although you won't be able to use any feature or experience that explicitly uses the sensor."
For context, Microsoft's Jeff Henshaw told us that Xbox One would require Kinect to function in late May. "It's not the case where you'll be able to remove the camera altogether," he said. "But you'll be able to put the system in modes where you can be completely secure about the fact that the camera is off and can't see you."
The decision to implement otherwise is likely, of course, to be a response to the pressure Microsoft's business at large has encountered over potential breaches of privacy. Whitten still feels that Kinect's privacy settings are more than sufficient to protect users from discreet surveillance with the sensor plugged in.
"You have the ability to completely turn the sensor off in your settings," he continued. "When in this mode, the sensor is not collecting any information. Any functionality that relies on voice, video, gesture or more won't work. We still support using it for IR blasting in this mode.
"You can turn the sensor back on at any time through settings, and if you enter into a required Kinect experience (like Kinect Sports Rivals for instance), you'll get a message asking if you want to turn the sensor back on in order to continue."
Meanwhile, over on NeoGAF, Penello insisted that Kinect is a core component of the Xbox One package. "We still believe in Kinect," he wrote. "We aren't interested in splitting the development base. The more demos I've seen, the more I've used it - the more impressed I am. The team feels strongly about Kinect, and I hope we're able to prove that when you use it.
"We also have a ton of privacy settings to allow people to turn off the camera, or microphones, or put it in a state just for "Xbox On" and IR blasting - there will be a lot of user control for that.
"The thing we all understood, and hence this change, is that there are some scenarios where people just may not be comfortable," Penello explained. "We wanted people to be 100% comfortable, so we allow the sensor to be unplugged. And clearly the "it dropped" scenario is possible.
"The most obvious thing is watching a DVD/BD, or streaming a movie, or HDMI pass-through, your experience isn't impacted (except you miss voice and IR blasting).
"There is no 'gotcha'," he went on (i.e. there's no catch), "but obviously, if there is a game that REQUIRES Kinect (like Rivals), or something where Kinect IS the experience (like Skype), those won't work. That said, for people who have privacy concerns there are user control settings, which we believe are great."
Inter-westing times, no? You may want to revisit this blog from me about why Xbox One won't sell without Kinect. One of the key arguments is that if developers can't rely on Kinect being there, they won't feel compelled to create decent Kinect games (hence the comments about "splitting the base"). Anyone want to take bets?