For a presentation that was obstensibly about a new gaming console, Microsoft’s unveiling of its next-generation Xbox One concept was light on its gaming prowess -- instead focusing on the new unit’s ability to work with the television as an entertainment hub.
Via a live Webcast that featured Microsoft and gaming executives (with a cameo from Steven Spielberg), the company touted how the next-generation console will control not just gaming, but television programming, music, sports interaction and Skype calling.
The Xbox One will react to users’ voice commands, launching on a personalized home screen that will show popular television shows (with the ability to navigate and watch live television via a cable, telecom or satellite provider through the device), as well as the users’ favorite shows, games and entertainment. The console will also allow users to do two things at once (such as playing a game while watching a movie) and make Skype calls directly through the television.
“Microsoft has quite rightly identified a weakness in controller and interface for pay TV services. It has also seen the proliferation of social TV companion apps and platforms, and identified it can improve on the integration of those offerings and the interface using a combination of a powerful device, Xbox Smartglass, voice and gesture,” writes Piers Harding-Rolls, director and head of games at IHS Electronics and media, in an e-mail to Marketing Daily. “Xbox One shifts its positioning from entertainment hub to access point for a number of other services, and most importantly live TV. This is about maintaining the relevance of Xbox in the living room and making sure it is on and connected as much as possible.”
Deepening its entertainment credentials, Microsoft also announced content partnerships with Spielberg (who will executive produce a live-action television series based on the popular “Halo” gaming franchise) and the National Football League (incorporating live-updating players’ stats for fantasy leagues and integrated Skype calling). The system will also include a high-definition, more responsive Kinect motion detector, and a redesigned handheld controller. Despite those additions, and a few demonstrations, the console’s gaming features were not heavily displayed, though many observers believed a more robust gaming presentation would come at the E3 conference in June.
“[Microsoft’s thin gaming focus] leaves it open to some criticism from early adopters that are keen to maintain their relationship with the gaming side of the Xbox brand,” Harding-Rolls says. “We believe that high-end gaming remains the key differentiator for consoles in the living room so we'll be looking for a heavy accent on the platform's gaming capabilities in early June.”
And though the company mentioned integration Smartglass touch-screen features, there was little in the presentation to show how the technology would be included in the new Xbox One, he says. “We believe that extending Xbox Live content and services to the most popular smartphones and tablets is highly important in keeping Xbox One at the center of the home entertainment experience,” Harding-Rolls says. “This leaves Microsoft more open to disruption from Apple and Google OS devices.”
Although Microsoft was not specific about the launch date, the company promised the new console would be available in many markets later this year.