Folks, this one is going to be short because it's the easiest case I've ever made. Microsoft wins the next-gen game console launch wars by launching something that the company doesn't even call a console. Where Nintendo offered us a tablet to accompany the millions we had already bought and Sony then offered us a box that we couldn't even see, Microsoft has trumped them both by delivering the Xbox One. Let's tally up the points:
- The name. Wii U means something, I'm sure, to someone. PS4 means "we like the past and want to extend it." Xbox One takes a bolder and more important stand by saying, "It's time to reboot the whole category." This is beautifully illustrated in the way that the Xbox presenters never referred to Xbox One as a game console. It is an All In One Home Entertainment System.
- The reveal. PS4 famously flopped its launch by hiding the console entirely. That would have been fine last generation, maybe. But this generation comes in the post-Steve Jobs era where the device and its price are shown. Microsoft debuted the box, the new Kinect, and the new controller in the first 60 seconds of the event.
- The scope. Wii U and PS4 both promise to provide access to video and other interesting media experiences. Xbox One actually delivers those things in the most satisfying and complete way anyone other than TiVo has done so far, letting you switch from gaming to TV to movies to web browsing with simple voice commands and practically no waiting.
- The UX design. Microsoft takes an unlikely trophy home today — it can claim to be the winner of the race to build the best living-room user experience available, a title previously held for the past decade by TiVo. By throwing immense hardware at the problem along with its unique user interface assets — controller, mobile, voice, and gesture — Microsoft has created the first TV experience that will make sense to every first-time user. It's very un-Microsoft, to be honest, and a pleasure to see. Even the inclusion of a Windows 8-like Snap feature to run apps next to each other is a grace note I did not expect from Redmond.
- The commitment to games. I'm not a hardcore gamer, so the thought that Microsoft might look at gaming in a way that would offend gamers didn't really bother me personally, even though I knew the company had to avoid it if possible. Xbox One comes with a commitment to develop exclusive gaming experiences for that audience and also gives them user experience (UX) innovations — a gaming DVR, auto-login to the last saved game, etc. — that will reassure gamers who wondered if Microsoft was considering abandoning them.
What now? The company certainly has to make good on all of these promises, and remember, this is Microsoft, a company that is so fixated on its PC operating system revenues that it may slip back into treating its powerful Xbox position as a nice-to-have. But based on what we saw today, I don't think that's likely. Add names like Spielberg and NFL, and it's clear the company means it when it says it's time to create a new type of home entertainment system.