Kinect’s value to artists overshadowed its gaming roots

The Kinect is officially dead. But the reality is that Microsoft signed the do-all sensor’s fate years ago. Faced with slumping hardware sales in 2014, then-new Xbox chief Phil Spencer had a decision to make. Microsoft could either drop the price of the Xbox One, or continue letting Sony and the $400 PlayStation 4 eat its lunch. So it stopped bundling the Kinect with the console and cut $100 off the asking price.

It worked. Microsoft doubled sales the next month, and this move has set the tone for Spencer’s tenure: reversing the string of bad decisions Microsoft made leading up to Xbox One’s debut. To illustrate the sensor’s waning importance to Microsoft, the Xbox One S didn’t have a dedicated Kinect port on the back when it was released in 2016. It’s the same with the upcoming Xbox One X, except Microsoft isn’t offering a free USB adapter anymore. The writing has been on the wall for a while now. If this week’s news was surprising, you probably haven’t been paying attention.

The truth is that Kinect’s greatest successes had nothing to do with gaming. Hackers adopted the sensor with open arms, using it for everything from interactive art installations to motion capture and even trippy stage shows for massive bands like Nine Inch Nails. Why? Because for the tech that’s on board, Kinect was relatively inexpensive and easy to use.

You can buy one online for $55. The adapter needed to connect it to a PC, however, is no longer available direct from Amazon, and there was only one new unit available from a third-party seller at press time.

“It’s become the standard for interactive art because it’s affordable,” Rob Sheridan, NIN’s former art director, told Engadget. “That’s the best gift you can give someone who has a vision of something creative.”

He compared the sensor and Microsoft’s quasi-open source approach to it to the advent of digital video at the turn of the century, and how that democratized video editing and production. “People can create interactive art in their bedroom now, and that’s something that everybody remembers as an important milestone in moving a creative medium forward.”