Apparently we’ve reached that point in the future where it’s news that a consumer electronics product will come with an “off” switch. Before the slow-news-day accusations start rolling in, it’s important to note that the following information isn’t actually something that could have been taken for granted. Microsoft’s reveal presentation of their next-gen console, the Xbox One, highlighted the integration of the Kinect with the console and the new voice command system which means that users will no longer have to get down on their hands and knees to power up their entertainment system, but can instead simply say “Xbox on” and bring it to life.
So far so inoffensive, but where this begins to get a little uncomfortable is the fact that – in order to always be ready for the voice command – the Kinect will remain switched on in a low-power mode, constantly listening and watching. Many gamers’ sense of unease over this concept was compounded when a patent for the Kinect revealed a planned feature that appears to constantly monitor how many people are in the room, so that Microsoft would know if material was being shared with too many people based on the license agreement.
Needless to say, quite a few Game Rant readers have said that they’d probably find a way to stop the Kinect from watching them – whether by hiding it in a cupboard, draping a heavy blanket over it, or simply unplugging it altogether. Even if the all-seeing eye of the Kinect is ultimately harmless, the concept of having an always-on camera and microphone in the house can be a little unsettling. Fortunately, Kotaku reports that an a Microsoft spokesperson has given assurance that the Kinect and the Xbox One won’t necessarily be always-on:
“It is not always watching or always listening… You can turn the system completely off. This would use no power and turn everything off. We’ll share more details about how it all works later.”
This would seem to promise a physical power switch on the console, but since the system apparently requires a detailed description in order to understand how it works (“you push a button and it turns off” isn’t really the sort of thing that requires an explanatory pamphlet), the reality may not be that simple.
When viewed in the larger context of the Xbox One reveal, this reassurance from Microsoft isn’t quite so comforting as it should be. “We’ll explain later” has become a familiar refrain of Microsoft representatives when asked tricky questions about the Xbox One’s heavy dependence on a reliable internet connection, support and fees for used games, the availability of indie games and how the Kinect will function. The best hope now is that the waters will become a little less muddy at E3 next month, as many gamers will no doubt be reluctant to invest an an Xbox One until they know a little bit more about exactly how it works.
Do you like the idea of having a voice-activated power-up command for your entertainment system, or do you prefer things the old-fashioned way?
The Xbox One will arrive in fall 2013.