Another Nail in Kinect's Coffin: Xbox One Update Removes Gesture Tracking

Microsoft continues to back away from Kinect's bold vision of controlling your TV with hand gestures.

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Nov 10 2015, 8:59pm

Image: Microsoft

Microsoft's Kinect camera for Xbox One was a nice dream. Forget fumbling around with your controller and worrying about batteries—just put the device that can see depth and detect motion on top of your TV and wave at it. Want to pause a video? Just hold up your hand up like a stop sign. Want to cruise through Netflix? Just flick your wrist in the desired direction.

It was mostly just a dream though.

Gesture tracking controls never worked as well as they should, and even when they did, they weren't as intuitive as Microsoft envisioned. Flicking your wrist this way or that isn't really less of an effort than pushing a button on remote. In fact, so few people use the gesture controls on Xbox One, that Microsoft is removing the feature from what it calls the "New Xbox One Experience," meaning the next iteration of the Xbox One's user interface.

"With gestures, the reality was the usage was very, very low," Mike Ybarra, who's leading development at Microsoft on the New Xbox One Experience, told Windows Central. "So for now, we've cut that from the New Xbox One Experience. So when we launch on the 12th, they won't be in the product. We'll continue to monitor and listen to feedback to see if people want them in."

This seems like an odd choice. If only a fraction of users are taking advantage of gesture controls, why not just leave them in there in their current state, and give people the option to turn it off?

Gesture controls were a defining feature of the device

"Gesture controls for navigating the dashboard were removed to focus on fan-requested features resulting in a faster and more social Xbox One experience," a Microsoft spokesperson told Motherboard. "Kinect motion detection continues to be available for Kinect-enabled games, biometric sign-in and video calls with Skype for Xbox One."

This decision is just the latest in a long series of steps Microsoft has taken to slowly back away from its commitment to Kinect. Following its first iteration on Xbox 360 as an add-on device, Kinect v2 for Xbox One was initially bundled with all version of the console. When the console was first announced in 2013, Microsoft also said that the Xbox One wouldn't work if it wasn't connected to a Kinect.

After a negative reaction from fans, and getting steadily beat in sales by Sony's PlayStation 4, in June 2014 Microsoft unbundled the Kinect from Xbox One, dropping the price of the console from $499 to $399, and allowed users to play their consoles without it.

In April 2015, Microsoft also announced that it was no longer manufacturing Kinects specifically for Windows, advising developers to use Xbox One Kinects instead.

The device can still take voice commands, which seem to work more consistently, and can automatically sign into your account by detecting your face. You can also still play whatever games require gesture controls. However, gesture controls were a defining feature of the device. That's what Kinect games are built around and how Microsoft demonstrated the device to the press.

Maybe it's the limitation of the current technology. Maybe people just aren't ready to wave at their televisions, but gesture controls never took off. Microsoft could always bring back the idea, but at least for now it's backing away from it.