The Xbox One is a paradox of sorts. It has sold at a far faster clip than previous Xbox consoles, which should be celebrated. But it’s also been outsold by as much as 2-to-1 by the PlayStation 4. So “fixing” the Xbox One in 2016 is tricky: Microsoft will need to continue with what’s working while making the platform more appealing to a wider audience.
I have a few thoughts.
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Price matters. The biggest takeaway from the Xbox One launch—which is sad, because this was also the biggest takeaway from the PlayStation 3 launch years earlier—is that price matters. In this case, a far-too-expensive price. The Xbox One launched at $500, fully $100 more than the PS4, and while fans will argue that you got more—e.g. the Kinect—for that price, Microsoft eventually figured out that few people wanted that, and made the Kinect optional. And, more important, lowered the price. Today, the starting price of the Xbox One is $350, the same as the PS4. And you can almost always find Xbox One bundles in the $300 range. This needs to continue.
We need another low-end console. On that note, Microsoft’s recent decision to halt production of the Xbox 360 leaves a hole in the low-end of the market, and it will need an Xbox One console to fill that gap. There are different ways to arrive at such a thing—go the Apple route and just offer refurbished/older console revisions, or rely on less expensive new silicon to create a cheaper version of the console. I vote for the latter approach, because ….
We need a higher-end console too. With Sony reportedly working on a PS4K that would ship this year and offer both 4K graphics quality and improved virtual reality (VR) capabilities, Microsoft simply must do the same. There is absolutely no reason why Xbox One games can’t ship with support for both consoles, and while existing games would simply play unchanged on the new console, new games could offer both better graphics and, when it makes sense, VR capabilities.
We need a living room solution. If there is anything less efficient for living room entertainment than the current tank-like Xbox One model, I have yet to see it. The Xbox One probably uses about 100 times as much electricity as a Roku or Apple TV, even when it’s not being used. (And my own Xbox One’s power supply is so loud—seriously, the power supply—that I routinely unplug it just to rid my office of the steady ruh-ruh-ruh-ruh sound that greats me every morning.) We need a real living room solution.
We need a Cortana box too. And some coming Xbox-based living room entertainment solution could also serve the same purpose as Amazon Echo or Google Home: A way to interact with Microsoft’s (Cortana) digital personal assistant and its back-end machine learning capabilities without needing to break out a phone or other mobile device.
User-serviceability matters. One thing that kills me about the humongous current-generation Xbox One is that the user can’t even replace the internal hard drive. There’s so much room in this box, and forcing us to use external storage is inexcusable. I would have long ago replaced the internal HDD with fast SSD storage had Microsoft simply allowed that. Which it should have. I hope they do so with gen 2, and I’d remind readers that the first two Xbox 360 generations allowed such upgrades. It was a pretty elegant system.
Performance matters. I mentioned the need for a higher-end console, but I want to call out a major issue with the current Xbox one that we as Xbox or Microsoft enthusiasts tend to sweep under the proverbial rug: The console simply doesn’t perform quickly enough. And I’m not talking about game resolutions or frame rates, another embarrassment, but rather just your basic UI speed and responsiveness. Even with the massive update from late 2015, the Xbox One UI crawls, and there is a pause or wait every time you do anything that isn’t playing an already-loaded game. Microsoft really needs to fix this.
I use the Xbox One every single day, and I prefer it over the PlayStation 4 by a fairly wide margin. But there are so many obvious areas to improve, maybe too many. As I previously reported, Microsoft will announce new hardware at E3 next month, but it’s not clear yet what that hardware will be. What it won’t be, I suspect, is one or more solutions to all of the issues I’ve raised here. But effectively relaunching the Xbox One is in fact necessary, and even Sony—which, again, dominates this market—appears to be doing so as well. This isn’t some kind of capitulation, it’s about Microsoft applying its evolution in Windows servicing to the Xbox as well. That is, just because previous console generations worked a certain way, doesn’t mean that we have to keep doing things the same way. It’s time for a major change, and the only real question is how far the Xbox team is willing to go.
Well, we’re about to find out: Microsoft’s E3 media showcase is on June 13, just three weeks from now. What we find out that week will define the Xbox One console not just for the rest of 2016 but, I think, for the remainder of this console’s lifetime.