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Xbox Kinect was good. There I said it.

Rip Kinect
Rip Kinect (Image credit: Windows Central | Jez Corden)

I've been on a weight-loss kick in the past year (losing 100 pounds using Microsoft Excel!), and exercise is a natural component of such an effort. Recently, my girlfriend said to me, "We should play Xbox Fitness," activating a core memory.

Sadly, I had to inform her that Xbox Fitness is in fact dead. For those who don't remember, Xbox Fitness was a unique app that gamified fitness workouts using Microsoft's ill-fated Kinect peripheral. Microsoft's positioning of Kinect in 2013 ultimately led to its death, but I couldn't help but feel a twinge of sadness when I recalled the missed potential.

For those who are unaware, Kinect is a motion-tracking camera that uses AI to analyze movements, detect voice commands, and much more. There was a point in history where Kinect was the fastest-selling video game accessory of all time, back in the Xbox 360 era. And that version was rather horrible, with inaccurate tracking and poor microphones. The 2013 Xbox One "V2" Kinect was far more powerful, but the way Microsoft presented it to gamers ensured its untimely death and eventual relegation to business-only use cases. You can still buy and use Kinect on Xbox One consoles, but you probably shouldn't. Yet still, I feel like there's still something of a missed opportunity here.

Here's a homage to Kinect, an accessory that could've survived in another timeline, as a supplementary experience, rather than a forced one.

They shouldn't have forced it ...

Kinect

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

The biggest issue with Kinect V2 is that it was essentially forced upon the community. Microsoft's 2013 Xbox One strategy was something of a disaster for a variety of reasons. The Xbox One was noticeably less powerful than the competing PlayStation 4, while also being $100 more expensive. The blame for that price tag was the forced bundling of Kinect.

Kinect became a focus of various genuine, and overblown concerns. People who played up fears of big tech spying on you through the Kinect's cameras and microphones would later be the proud owners of Amazon Echo speakers and Ring cameras. Microsoft could've circumnavigated these complaints if it only hadn't forced Kinect upon users, inflating the price of the Xbox One in the process.

Microsoft's Kinect peripheral was vastly ahead of the curve, and in some ways, still is. Even today, TVs try to emulate some of Kinect's features, such as TV voice controls and even embedded cameras. None are as good as Kinect was, given its dedicated hardware, and voice recognition expertise. HDMI-CEC combined with the Amazon Echo has only just recently started to bring some of Kinect's IR-blaster features for external device control, something Kinect was doing all the way back in 2013. There was something so cool about getting home from work and saying, "Xbox On," and seeing my entire entertainment center light up.

... but it was actually really fun to use

Kinect Adventures

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

Indeed, Kinect was just fun to use. Even before we get to the games, Kinect integrated seamlessly with most IR-based devices allowing it to act as a remote controller for a large range of entertainment equipment. Voice control your TV's volume, or even channel surf with the integrated Xbox OneGuide TV listings database. Adjust your sound system, without having to reach for (and find) that pesky remote.

Beyond smart home features, Kinect actually worked pretty damned well for games. Games like Fruit Ninja were undeniably fun to play, and represented some fairly intense exercise opportunities if you're as out of shape as I am. Kinect's IR sensors were even powerful enough to determine your heart rate via the camera alone, giving you accurate calorie-burning statistics in much the same way smartwatches do today.

Source: HE SAWBlue Estate by HE SAW was probably the most "mature" Kinect experience out there. (Image credit: Source: HE SAW)

Outside of fun party games and novelty experiences, Kinect actually had some decent applications in core games. Yelling "FUS RO DAH!" at the TV while playing Skyrim to activate abilities was an interesting take. Being able to command your teammates in Dragon Age: Inquisition was also pretty clever, since it essentially gave you an extra pair of hands for micromanaging the game's tactical combat. The violent on-rails shooter Blue Estate was a nostalgic arcade-style game that let you use Kinect to shoot finger bullets, and it was a surprisingly great experience.

Kinect was quite honestly fun and novel to use occasionally, both for controlling your smart home and for playing casual games. Alas, 'twas not meant to be.

RIP, Kinect

Kinect

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

It's hard not to wonder what could've become of Kinect in a gaming context. The technology has found its way into HoloLens (now also reportedly dead), alongside Windows Mixed Reality VR headsets (also probably dead). Ghost hunters are even using Kinect to track spooky apparitions (apparently). More seriously though, with companies like Steam, Facebook, and Sony exploring VR and motion-controlled games, it feels like there's probably a timeline where Kinect not only survives but thrives on Xbox, as an optional and supplementary experience.

The options for fitness games on Xbox now are woeful, restricted to Just Dance, and its limited smartphone gyroscope tracking. For casual experiences, especially for smaller kids, Kinect could've been a great thing. Perhaps V3 would've been accurate and powerful enough to give rise to a renaissance of light gun games, leading to Xbox accessories like the Super Nintendo Super Scope. Perhaps Kinect could've powered a VR play for Xbox, leading to ports of popular virtual reality titles like Half-Life: Alyx.

It's fun to wonder about possibilities in hindsight, but for now, we can only reminisce: Kinect was pretty good.

Jez Corden is a Senior Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

41 Comments
  • 100% agree with all of this. The good, the bad, the strategic mistakes... All very sad. To this day, I regularly whine to my family how much of a hassle launching the Series X is compared to the One and One X, all because no Kinect for voice launch and face recognition for account login. The one complaint I'd add or reinforce here is that while I partially respect how quickly MS is willing to pivot in response to a less than stellar market reaction, I think they almost universally take it too far. Kinect is a perfect example. Instead of just making it optional while continuing to develop and leverage its strengths (including for Cortana as a great home automation and AI companion), they flip 180 degrees, turning the whole automated home entertainment system over to others. Microsoft, please learn the lesson that you can change course without reversing direction.
  • Imagine a future, where sentimentally old Microsoft revives and enhances their old dead tech... There is something marvelous when one thinks about Cortana, Kinect, Windows Phone, Band or Zune... these totally separate kinds of tech so very well represent some kind of shared vision, interconnectedness, a way of life.
    Now with all that said, I have no idea whatsoever what Skype is still doing among the living tech. Without a pinch of remorse I'd bury Skype and forget about it, if Kinect or any other tech Microsoft killed prematurely could be resurrected. Phil, Satya, you know fully well Microsoft has all the money in the world. You can do great things, anything even. Start thinking about bringing some of it back. Kinect is dead, long live Kinect!
  • Thanks a lot, raising and reviving my hope.
    My household have 2 Kinects and the retrofit adapter to use it with XBO
  • This! Issue with Microsoft is when they chance course, they really do a complete 180 and reverse everything, literally EVERYTHING! Sure we don't want the bad things, but they really mostly don't even consider the good things either. Simply killing the product or not including all the features from the previous version to new Windows simply because previous version has a bad rep. Instead of improving it and just fixing what was the issue. Kincect could have been even better, and just name it a mandatory accessory. They just only need to address that. Idk if everybody were asking to actually kill it. Many just don't want it Pre included since they don't find it they need it and want to reduce the price. Since they they remove or dismantle everything related to Kinect like that facial recognition login, which was awesome and still no consoles can do it.
  • When XBO came out and was sold with Kinect, that pricing killed ($600) as such they were forced to decouple it to match pricing with PS4
  • I loved my Kinect, still have it connected to my Xbox One X. Not really doing anything with it, but it is there. Used it for a time as a Windows Hello device as well. The camera was actually pretty good for a webcam too. I wish that in the near future, we can get another accessory for the Xbox that can bring Fitness back into the front lines. I miss Xbox Fitness so much.
  • I still have my Kinect connected to my Xbox One and occasionally pull it out to play Just Dance with the family. Kinect was way ahead of its time, and could have been spectacular in a v3. You are totally correct that Microsoft has a general problem of making 180 degree turns instead of smaller course corrections. Zune, Kinect, and Band are still some of my favorite dead products. Each was way ahead of the competition in their respective times, but instead of just correcting their flaws (as much as I liked them, none were even close to perfect), MS trashed them and let the competition take over. Sad.
  • There's a great tool named Kinect2VR (https://k2vr.tech/) which lets either model of Kinect be used for full-body tracking in VR, without the need for additional trackers attached to your body. It's a great use of the Kinect.
  • KinectToVR* Also hi. :)
  • I loved it and used it - it made life so much easier even beyond the gaming and I wish it could have lived on. From voice commands to automatic player detection and games that were great and some fitness stuff that was great while it lasted. I used the ir blasting to control devices as well... but it was a game saver - my kids auto logged into their profiles and stopped deleting my saved games :)
  • This comment could also apply to hands free tools on Windows Phone in the car. There still isn't a solution as good as that.
  • This is the truth, Jez! Kinect is the only reason I originally let my kids talk me into an Xbox 360. Who could say "no" after experiencing how much fun (and hard work!) River Rafting Adventure was???
  • I miss the voice capability directly tied to the console no in a add on speaker. I also loved windows hello and how it knew which controler u had. I'd love to see a resurgence of those core features... Yelling to control the battalions in ryse or speaking to Anna in forza was great too... Maybe a controler with a mic that stays active?
  • Preach it Jez!!
    I have said it on several articles here, that had MS stuck with Kinect they could really developed into a true workout program better than Mirror or the likes especially during this pandemic where people were looking for something.
    Even the games that were not "work out programs" could be turned into a great workout. I used to put on a weighted vest, wrist weights, ankle weights and do the boxing and tennis in the sports game.
    It was fun, and very responsive.
    I just think of how good it could have been now had they stuck with it. Another loss for MS because of lack of intestinal fortitude to stick with something.
  • Literally the reason I bought my first and second console. Never had any interest in consoles before that.
  • Yes, totally agree with this article. Kinnect was way ahead, so was cortana and windows phone.
  • Were they really? Even Microsoft doesn't make those claims and the market certainly didn't agree.
  • That's because the market is stuck in the past.
  • Do you scan every comment section of the site for any reference to WP? Or do you have a bit set up? 😜
  • Consumer marketing division (if one exists) have always been terrible.
  • It does not exist. MS has no consumer products. Why would they need a "Consumer Marketing Division"?
  • Well I haven't retire it yet since I still use it as a Windows hello for my PC and it's great plus the camera has good quality for zoom and maybe Teams.
  • And the drawer of forgotten MS tech just gets fuller and fuller. So much was ahead of its time and shot down before its prime.
  • Just like VR, it is not core Xbox experience. However, with MS resources, I think they should put some resources on different experiences on Xbox.
  • Loved The kinect. Was an awesome piece of hw. Hoping for a kinect v3 and vr this year...
  • I skipped the last generation. I'm really enjoying getting caught up on Halo, but it feels like gaming overall has stagnated and regressed in some ways. Wii and Kinect were a great beginning to moving past traditional controls. Kinect V3 should be pursued.
  • Tu veux dire comme des jeux mobiles sur ta Tv ?
    Si c'est bon, on le retrouvera (sous forme de logiciel ?) sur Pc.
  • Just imagine how good a Kinect V3 could be today, 9 years later. Kinect also has a huge advantage over VR, in that you don't have to wear a headset and it's not a 1 person device.
  • Kinect was great, I really miss it! Everyone was complaining about privacy and now they have alexa, google assistant, siri ecc EVERYWHERE AND ALWAYS CONNECTED while the kinect was only in one room and not always on
  • They shouldve given xbox series the option to connect a kinect device imo.
  • As a technology Kinect was fine, as a gaming appliance it struggled in much the same way VR is. Movement. How do you move a character around a 3D world when you have static camera looking at essentially a 2D plane? It's a problem that still isn't really solved. You have the teleport feature or you have to use a controller. But then both of those things make Kinect and VR gimmicks that add to an experience instead of being an experience all their own. That's where Kinect failed. It was there but no one could really crack the code on how to make a fun Kinect game that wasn't on rails.
  • Actually, I loved the fitness apps/games that went along with it so well. They were so ahead of the time and for fitness its better than anything else I ever tried. Some companies have even produced fitness mirrors that try to emulate the presence of a trainer in the room with you and that's what kinect did. However, for games alone you are correct, that is where it failed.
  • Looooved the Kinect. Wish they brought it back as their VR name since it has merit the the gaming space and didn’t necessarily fail it outsold all gaming attachments period, it was pulled.
  • I agree, if they ever come out with it again, I hope is it about $50 or $60 with a low end game. A lot of games were created over time that are at least better with accessories. That is how they should have treated Kinect. We still have our Xbox 360 because of Kinect.
  • I use mine every single day. Have one for each of my Xbox's. No need let it go when it still works for my purposes.
  • I'm so so tired of Microsoft dumping great tech. I've seen it for 30 years now. Programming languages and SDKs, The Phones ( LOVED my 640 XL ), Kinect and so much more. I know there is such a thing as "progress" but often these devices never see an upgrade path, but enter oblivion. It really gets to a point you don't know if you should invest in Microsoft products due to support withdrawal at a whim.
  • "It really gets to a point you don't know if you should invest in Microsoft products due to support withdrawal at a whim." Only if you are foolishly investing in MS consumer products. No MS consumer products sold enough volume to warrant continued support. Which explains why Microsoft is no longer trying to be a consumer products company. Business products are another matter entirely. Desktop Windows, Windows Server, Office, Teams, SQL Server, Azure, Exchange etc. will be around for a long time. Nothing to do with "whims". Everything to do with sound business practices. MS right now is in its best financial shape in its 45 year history. That some people continue to look to Microsoft for consumer products is a total mystery to me. Sony, Apple, Samsung etc. are consumer products companies. Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, SAP, Cisco, ADP etc. are business products companies.
  • Sony fans said it was bad, so Microsoft listened and Xbox fans got their toy taken away. I still have and use my Kinect and love it.
  • Kinect was a good fun addition, but hey, Microsoft has no vision for forward thinking they are always follow the leader with a 80% completion record, many good projects they started they destroyed before they matured and took hold ,
  • Kinect got a bad rap. It came down to the developer. While the hardware in version 2 was light years ahead of version 1, the first Kinect could be a fun device in the right developers' hands. I'm sure we all heard of Double Fine Productions - they have made some solid games. Well, if you have never tried Double Fine's Kinect Party, but say Kinect sucks, then byte your tongue. That title is fun and quite an amazing accomplishment. As for version 2, Virtual Air Guitar Company made a game called Kung-Fu for Kinect; it's fun, hilarious, and kicks arse! After 15 minutes of playing, you start feeling like a martial arts superhero. Have to remind myself that I can't do that in real life, so no trying to be a kung fu hero when zombies show up.
  • Kinect was the reason I bought an Xbox One Day One. Everything about their initial vision was great. Voice- and gesture-controlled navigation of the operating system and apps, voice- and gesture-controlled videogames in a variety of genres. Skyping with friends and family on the big screen (I still do this, by the way, snapping apps, man, I miss it. Kinect brought about much needed diversity in the industry, broadened the consumer base, and was far more convenient and interesting than anything we've gotten since. Here are my Top 15 Kinect games for Xbox One:
    1. Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved
    2. Fru
    3. D4
    4. Dance Central Spotlight
    5. Kinect Sports Rivals
    6. Fruit Ninja Kinect 2
    7. Kung-Fu for Kinect
    8. Xbox Fitness (RIP)
    9. Blue Estate
    10. Rush: A Disney-Pixar Adventure
    11. Air Guitar Warrior
    12. Shape Up (probably the best Xbox Fitness replacement)
    13. Disneyland Adventures
    14. Rabbids Invasion
    15. Peggle 2