Xbox One: A Gadget Only Microsoft Could Make

Last’s weeks Xbox One release was met with shouts from fans, detractors and longtime followers of the company’s plays in the consumer space.

Of course, the most noise originated from users who aren’t fans of the decisions made by Microsoft as of late. There was also an audible cheering from fans who are simply ecstatic to have a next-generation Xbox One to call their own. Though both extremes are valid, I think those paying attention to Microsoft’s handling of the Xbox One will realize that the device perfectly encapsulates Microsoft as it is today.

Take the company’s approach to the console itself. Rather than create a next-generation gaming system that simply allowed users to do the same things they could on the Xbox 360 with higher fidelity, Microsoft choose to put future entertainment ambitions at the forefront. Sure, the Xbox One is a next-generation gaming system, buts it’s also a television set-top box that comes closer to meeting consumer standards than most living-room focused products.

Microsoft_Xbox_One_consoleInstead of relying on DVDs and just an updated controller, the company made the decision to ship every console with a completely overhauled Kinect sensor and set a baseline for what users expect from its future consoles. Yes, attempting to innovate while facing a competitor who’s perfectly content with not pushing the envelope and coming in at a lower price is bold.

All of these decisions didn’t exactly harmonize Microsoft’s base of users. There are some gamers who are absolutely offended by Microsoft’s decision to create one device that costs users $100 more than the competition. Many users weren’t fans of the Metro interface that Microsoft introduced in Windows 8, and you can bet they aren’t too happy with having that same interface here. Early on Microsoft was even willing to upset the used game market if it meant it could, theoretically, make it easier for gamers to switch games and share digital titles with friends and family. Yes, it back tracked on that it, but there are still users clamoring for both of those features. This is a Microsoft that isn’t afraid to make tough decisions that everyone won’t agree with. It’s not a characteristic we’ve much of from Microsoft until recently.

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Finally, the Xbox One is a device that only Microsoft could have created. The console’s headline features are a perfect snapshot of just how many businesses and technologies Microsoft has. The foundations of Xbox OS belong to Microsoft’s HyperV and Windows businesses. Its voice and search technologies are from the TellMe and Bing Teams. Its Cloud Compute servers are powered by Microsoft’s Azure platform. Microsoft is one of the few companies who could create a project like this, and this is the same company industry watchers browbeat year after year for not working in unison.

Of course, there are things here that perfectly represent one of the biggest things this “new” Microsoft gets wrong. We all know that the Xbox One will evolve overtime, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. However, the Xbox One’s software doesn’t feel done. Big name apps like Comcast and AT&T U-Verse are flat-out missing, Xbox Music lacks access to the same music video catalog users had access to on the Xbox 360.

The Xbox One doesn’t allow users to customize it outside of pinning apps in one section of the Dashboard and changing their tile color. This is an issue we’ve seen with Windows Phone and Windows too. Not a single product outside of what SkyDrive and Outlook feels done by the time it goes to consumers. I suspect that it’s a side-effect of shipping software products so often. However, I don’t think end users care why it’s a constant struggle for them as much as they want to see one idea fleshed out in an initial release.

Like it or not. The Xbox One is Microsoft as it exists today. A bold, divisive, monolithic company who prefers to meet deadlines in the hopes of not arriving into a market too late. I suppose whether these characteristics are good for the Xbox One or Microsoft as a whole depends on whether consumers respond well to either.