Kinect is looking less integral to the Xbox One experience after Xbox head Phil Spencer announced on May 13 that Microsoft will begin offering a less expensive version of the console. Currently, the Xbox One retails for $499.
"Beginning on June 9, in all markets where Xbox One is sold, we will offer Xbox One, starting at $399. This is a new console option that does not include Kinect," Spencer said in a statement.
The move was prompted by customer feedback, according to Spencer. "We've heard that you want more choices from Xbox One. You want a wide variety of options in your games and entertainment experiences, and you also want options in your hardware selection," he said.
At $399, the new Xbox One SKU will narrow the price gap—and perhaps the sales gap—with the PlayStation 4 (PS4) from rival Sony.
To date, Sony has sold 7 million PlayStation 4 systems, making the Japanese electronics giant the early winner in the current generation of console gaming. Andrew House, president and group CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, described the response to the PlayStation 4 as "overwhelming" in an April 16 statement.
Indicating trouble satisfying demand for the device, House said that the "PS4 journey has just begun, and although we are still facing difficulties keeping up with the strong demand worldwide, we remain steadfast in our commitment to meet the needs of our customers."
At last count, Microsoft said the company had shipped 5 million Xbox Ones.
Despite the change of course regarding Kinect-less Xboxes, the company remains committed to the sensor technology, said Spencer. "To be clear, as we introduce this new Xbox One console option, Kinect remains an important part of our vision."
Kinect is hardly a bust, at least from a technology adoption standpoint, Spencer said. Its features, which include voice-enabled commands and video calling, are actively used by the majority of Xbox One owners. "In fact, more than 80 percent of you are actively using Kinect, with an average of 120 voice commands per month on each console," said Spencer.
Pricing aside, Microsoft also plans to emulate Sony's approach to entertainment apps.
Spencer revealed that, come June, his company will be "offering all Xbox 360 and Xbox One owners access to entertainment apps whether or not you have an Xbox Live Gold membership." The company has long been criticized for locking access to streaming apps like Netflix and Hulu behind the Xbox Live Gold paywall.
An Xbox Live Gold membership provides access to multiplayer gaming and special offers. Sony's competitive offering, PlayStation Plus, is not required for streaming apps.
Microsoft is readying a standalone Kinect sensor for the Xbox One for a fall release, allowing buyers of the $399 console to experience voice and motion control. Xbox One with Kinect will be sold as a premium bundle.