‘Xbox, Do I Have to Call You Xbox?’

Microsoft's new Xbox One trailer touts speedy Kinect voice controls.

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I have an issue with the Xbox One’s voice command interface: I have to say “Xbox” each time I bark a command. I know I have to call it something to wake it up, but “ex-box”? That’s two syllables. Why not one? Is Kinect like a dog? Does it pay attention to just the first syllable? Can I say “X” instead?

I kid, mostly. Just don’t confuse any of this with your Star Trek-ian future. Jean-Luc doesn’t utter the word “computer” (ugh, three syllables!) before summoning a cup of “Tea, Earl Grey, hot.” The Enterprise knows what’s up. Don’t ask me how, it just does! Maybe there’s a camera in the ready room, tucked away near the food replicator. Maybe it’s explained in the Star Trek The Next Generation Technical Manual my mom bought for my dad forever ago. Maybe (probably) it’s just a screenwriter projecting a reality distortion field.

The Xbox One’s camera can tell all kinds of creepy-cool things about you, the creepiest of which is probably how fast your heart is beating, no finger-clip required. But registering intent without a wake-me-up word? That when you say “Go to Pacific Rim,” you’re talking about Guillermo del Toro’s monster movie, not offering advice to someone looking for pan-Asian food in Ann Arbor, Michigan? It needs prompting. As you can see in the video above, it’s Xbox-do-this, Xbox-do-that. “Xbox, go to activity feed,” “Xbox, watch TV,” “Xbox, hang up” and so on.

To be fair, it’s not as slavish as it sounds. The Xbox isn’t your lord and master — you’re telling it what to do, after all. Take my favorite feature by a mile: “Xbox, record that,” which prompts the system to video-capture whatever you’re playing. Chase with a simple “Xbox, share,” and presto, the clip’s snipped and distributed to whatever social services you’ve configured beforehand.

After which, if you could see what Kinect can, you’d catch me quietly mouthing these words: “Xbox, that’ll do.”

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