Now that Microsoft’s Xbox One is out and powering up TVs across the world, the company should be praised for coming up with a piece of hardware that actually lives up to its promise of delivering pretty much everything you might want –- games, movies, live or streamed TV shows, access to social media, Skype, “Minority Report”-like controls – all in one set-top box.
But what the Xbox One also does is serve as a mirror, reflecting who we are as a society right now.
Microsoft means well by giving us the option to play a game while watching a TV show and monitoring the tweets from people we follow while recording and posting what just happened on screen all at the same time.
With the Xbox One, Microsoft is clearly trying to recapture some of the magic Nintendo conjured up with its Wii in 2006, that made gaming appeal to the entire family, not just men who wanted to spend hours shooting aliens or soldiers.
Yet while trying to please everyone in the living room, for example, Microsoft is embracing the A.D.D. that’s turned us all into a distracted mess, always staring at a screen of various sizes and unable to carry on a conversation with the people around us. The much-enhanced Kinect further encourages us to talk to our hardware.
Of course, Microsoft isn’t alone. Every major electronics manufacturer is trying to pack as many multi-tasking tools as they can onto the devices they try to sell us. But in doing so, many are losing focus and failing to actually do anything well. Nintendo is struggling to remain relevant after failing to innovate on the gaming side and turning its newer Wii U into a broader entertainment device. Microsoft needs to keep that in mind as it constantly updates its next-generation console with new capabilities.
Is the Xbox One worth buying? Absolutely. Its tech specs are top-notch, a notable step up from the eight-year-old Xbox 360 that it replaces. But its price tag is $100 more than Sony’s PlayStation 4 because it comes with the Kinect, which has also been considerably updated from the original motion and voice sensor released in 2010 with better cameras and built-in technology.
In fact, it’s like a puppy leashed to your entertainment center, eager to please every time you walk into the room. And it’s named Xbox, who demands attention and constant commands.
The Xbox One hasn’t done away with the stern Xbox voice many Kinect users suddenly found themselves adopting three years ago. In fact, it’s going to only get louder, with Microsoft wanting you to now control how you watch live TV or select content from streaming video providers.
New features like the OneGuide, which takes over the clumsily designed programming schedules on your set-top box from a cable or satellite provider is a major plus –- especially as it offers up programming from apps like Machinima and other non-traditional content providers with apps designed for the Xbox One.
Searching for entertainment like a TV show or movie, or other titles that feature specific talent, has also improved considerably through Bing, with apps and stores popping up on how to view the content.
Such search functions will be critical as more digital distributors like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu produce original content and consumers forget –- or fail to care –- who offers what.
About that box. Microsoft has embraced industrial design with its new console. It’s large and a little imposing with sharp edges, a mix of shiny and grate-like surfaces on the black box that’s almost retro in its looks, a design perhaps meant to help Microsoft win over the non-gamer, as well. It looks like something a Comcast or DirecTV would deliver when signing up as a new subscriber. The Xbox 360 was far more playful with its curves and looked like a video game console. The Xbox One is far more serious.
But when powered on, your eye immediately goes to the glowing Xbox logo that lights up on the console and the Kinect. It’s an attention to detail that’s welcoming, as is the friendly shade of green the Xbox One’s designers have amped up on its main screen, a branding decision that trumps the colder, icy blue of the PlayStation.
At its core, the Xbox One is still meant to be a gaming device, and it delivers here, too.
Consoles typically show off their capabilities through sports and racing games, and EA’s “NFL Madden” football franchise and “Forza Motorsport 5” look glorious and only hint at what kind of innovative play publishers are developing for the Xbox One in the coming years.
The subtly but noticeably redesigned Xbox One controller also makes playing games a better experience; the excellent new controller is lighter, features bigger buttons, vibrating triggers and is more comfortable to hold.
But with the PlayStation 4 also packing similar power, Microsoft hopes to win over the non-hardcore gamer with everything else the Xbox One does.
It will take some time to determine whether it succeeds. But if the way society today is glued to its smartphones and tablets is any indication, Microsoft may have a big multi-tasking winner on its hands.