The big news that everyone is talking about from last week is the Xbox One and Playstation 4 announcements. Both are still being considered gaming consoles and are being compared in that manner, but I think the Xbox One is really supposed to be something different… kind of like a smartphone.
10 years ago, many of us were dreaming about a smartphone that combined the features of a regular phone, an MP3 player, a portable video player, a GPS navigation device, and a touch screen PDA that covers personal information management, email, web browsing, and other apps that you can install at will. Today it’s difficult to find a phone that does not cover all of those bases, but back then there were plenty of people who though things like, “I want a phone only for making phone calls.” or “I want my iPod only for playing music.” A lot of people were carrying around multiple portable electronic devices with specific functions.
Many living rooms these days are still kind of like that. You probably have numerous electronic devices (cable box, DVR, Xbox, maybe a music device, Blu-Ray or DVD player) plugged into the back of a TV and then you’ve got a pile of controllers and remotes strewn about. Sure you could reduce the clutter by programming a universal remote, but then you’ve still got more Playstation controllers, Wii controllers, etc. and a big piece of some kind of shelving furniture set up to hold everything. What’s even more annoying is that each of those electronic devices plugged into that TV probably have completely different user interfaces with varying degrees of usability and responsiveness.
The new Xbox One seems like not only an attempt to bring your average couch-controller video games into the future, but it’s also a first step towards unifying your home’s interactive experience. Today, everyone has a smartphone with one interface for accessing all of the apps and functions that may have required completely separate devices long ago. You can use your voice to access some functions or you can use the touch screen with multi-touch gestures. The Xbox One is very much the same principle except instead of touch, you’ve got full-body gestures that can be performed from the couch and speech commands that don’t require any button pressing.
Then there are the apps. The Xbox One is running three operating systems at a time. One is based on the Windows 8 kernel, one is a Hyper-V virtualization engine, and one is a gaming system. Having a Windows core fully supported on the Xbox One means that developers can potentially create apps that work across Windows, Windows Phone, and Xbox One. All three have similar UI conventions that can translate pretty easily across each screen size. Only a few non-gaming apps have been announced for the Xbox One so far, but if you look at what’s already available for the Xbox 360, it makes sense that we’ll see plenty of that app-like functionality coming to the future. It’s not hard to see that many of the current Windows 8 apps would be quite easy to use on an Xbox One using Kinect gesture controls. You could potentially ask the Xbox about the weather, sports scores, news, banking information, or schedules. Then there’s also the potential for home automation integration. Voice enabled Xbox apps could be made that would allow you to control the ambient temperature in the room or turn off the lights.
You might be thinking, “why would I would I want all of that on the Xbox, when I have it on my smartphone?” Why would you want all of that on a tablet if your smartphone can already do it too? It’s because of the larger screen. Movies and video games still look better on a bigger screen. You can see more content and move around more and share the same thing with whomever can fit on the couch with you. You can feel more involved.
Even the new rights management policies are more smartphone like. With the Xbox One, no longer are games restricted to physical disks. It sounds like things will work a bit more like smartphone app stores. When you buy a game or an app, it will be associated with your log-in. That way no matter where you log into, you’ll have full access to the games and apps that you own. The Xbox One tops smartphone app stores by also allowing remote sharing of games with up to 10 “family” member log-in names at a time… again without the need to physically transport a disk.
It’s not just about video games anymore. It’s about bringing a wide array of fully interactive functions to the largest screen in the house. Are you looking forward to have a centralized interface for the living room, or do you still prefer having a pile of separate boxes and remotes to switch between?