It’s that time of decade again. Time for a new Xbox. It took four years for Microsoft to go from the original Xbox to the Xbox 360. The transition from Xbox 360 to the newly announced Xbox One will take right around 8 years, and the 360 won’t be going away anytime soon either. The console business demands long upgrade cycles in order to make early investments in hardware (often sold at a loss) worthwhile. This last round was much longer that it ever should have been, so the Xbox One arrives to a very welcoming crowd.

Yesterday Microsoft finally took the covers off the new Xbox, what it hopes will last for many years to come. At a high level here’s what we’re dealing with:

- 8-core AMD Jaguar CPU
- 12 CU/768 SP AMD GCN GPU
- 8GB DDR3 system memory
- 500GB HDD
- Blu-ray drive
- 2.4/5.0GHz 802.11 a/b/g/n, multiple radios with WiFi Direct support
- 4K HDMI in/out (for cable TV passthrough)
- USB 3.0
- Available later this year

While Microsoft was light on technical details, I believe we have enough to put together some decent analysis. Let’s get to it.

Chassis

The Xbox 360 was crafted during a time that seems so long ago. Consumer electronics styled in white were all the rage, we would be a few years away from the aluminum revolution that engulfs us today. Looking at the Xbox One tells us a lot about how things have changed.

Microsoft isn’t so obsessed with size here, at least initially. Wired reports that the Xbox One is larger than the outgoing 360, although it’s not clear whether we’re talking about the new slim or the original design. Either way, given what’s under the hood - skimping on cooling and ventilation isn’t a good thing.

The squared off design and glossy black chassis scream entertainment center. Microsoft isn’t playing for a position in your games cabinet, the Xbox One is just as much about consuming media as it is about playing games.

In its presentation Microsoft kept referencing how the world has changed. Smartphones, tablets, even internet connectivity are very different today than they were when the Xbox 360 launched in 2005. It’s what Microsoft didn’t mention that really seems to have played a role in its decision making behind the One: many critics didn’t see hope for another generation of high-end game consoles.

With so much of today focused on mobile, free to play and casual gaming on smartphones and tablets - would anyone even buy a next-generation console? For much of the past couple of years I’ve been going around meetings saying that before consolidation comes great expansion. I’ve been saying this about a number of markets, but I believe the phrase is very applicable to gaming. Casual gaming, the advent of free to play and even the current mobile revolution won’t do anything to the demand for high-end consoles today or in the near term - they simply expand the market for gamers. Eventually those types of games and gaming platforms will grow to the point where they start competing with one another and then the big console players might have an issue to worry about, but I suspect that’s still some time away. The depth offered by big gaming titles remains unmatched elsewhere. You can argue that many games are priced too high, but the Halo, BioShock, Mass Effect, CoD experience still drives a considerable portion of the market.

The fact that this debate is happening however has to have impacted Microsoft. Simply building a better Xbox 360 wasn’t going to guarantee success, and I suspect there were not insignificant numbers within the company who felt that even making the Xbox One as much of a gaming machine as it is would be a mistake. What resulted was a subtle pivot in strategy.

The Battle for the TV

Last year you couldn’t throw a stone without hitting a rumor of Apple getting into the TV business. As of yet those rumors haven’t gone anywhere other than to point to continued investment in the Apple TV. Go back even further and Google had its own TV aspirations, although met with far less success. More recently, Intel threw its hat into the ring. I don’t know for sure how things have changed with the new CEO, but as far as I can tell he’s a rational man and things should proceed with Intel Media’s plans for an IPTV service. All of this is a round about way of saying that TV is clearly important and viewed by many as one of the next ecosystem battles in tech.

Combine the fact that TV is important, with the fact that the Xbox 360 has evolved into a Netflix box for many, add a dash of uncertainty for the future of high end gaming consoles and you end up with the formula behind the Xbox One. If the future doesn’t look bright for high-end gaming consoles, turning the Xbox into something much more than that will hopefully guarantee its presence in the living room. At least that’s what I suspect Microsoft’s thinking was going into the Xbox One. With that in mind, everything about the One makes a lot of sense.

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  • plcn - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    there are a lot more ipads than xboxes out there... msft wants the surface to have its place there, and well, that will probably make them more money than simply winning this generation's 'console war' - makes some sense. wasn't messaged like that at all by the company, but gotta appreciate it's potential merit nonetheless Reply
  • tipoo - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    Meh. If they kill the box and make tablets and mobile their gaming focus, that gives the iPad and Android an ample opportunity to become their prime competitors, and the iPad already has a lot of headway on mobile gaming. Reply
  • Jaybus - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    I don't think we can connect 2 or more controllers plus LCD TV to our smartphones just yet. And neither a smartphone nor a tablet can play high end games, certainly not at anything close to reasonable frame rates. Those who think a smartphone is going to replace consoles, PCs, and NASA supercomputers in the next 8 years all live in fantasy land. Reply
  • Gigaplex - Thursday, May 23, 2013 - link

    Sure we can. There's a fair few phones with HDMI connectors, and it wouldn't take much in the way of software tweaks to pair multiple bluetooth controllers (assuming it's not already supported). Reply
  • Dedhed - Wednesday, June 05, 2013 - link

    Actually I have a note 2 and attached to the smartdock and a couple of powered usb hubs i can connect 4 controllers to it and watch it on my 28 monitor or 55 led panel, hook up my external drives and play my bluray movies as well as surfing and netflix and the rest of it while listening to my stereo bluetooth headset. Convergence is happening already. Take off your blinders and look around! Reply
  • RollingCamel - Thursday, May 23, 2013 - link

    They wouldn't. First you have SmartGlass which makes the smartphones and tablets into controller peripherals as a 1st step of integration.
    Then these peripherals would evolve more into an accessory gaming controller paired with the Xbox system.
    After that the Xbox system grows from the living room into tablets and smartphones where games are played cross-platform. Every device does it job and can't replace the other. If ppl argue that we may hookup the phone to the TV instead of the console, it would be possible but imagine getting a phone mid game.
    This may increase MS sales if they can improve ground they built now. Every product they made has excellent potential and just needs to be smoothed out...hopefully.
    Sony has already spoken about integrating different devices into same ecosystem via Android. I don't think Apple can compete with it unless they use their tv box as a console too.
    Reply
  • jaydee - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    What's with all these "One" monikers?

    Since PS4 and XBO are all x86 architecture, here's hoping EA Sports will starting porting its games (notably Madden) to PC again.
    Reply
  • nathanddrews - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    I believe that Microsoft secured exclusive rights to all EA Sports titles for the XO, at least FIFA, Madden, NBA Live and UFC so far. Then there's COD:G which is exclusive as well. Whether these are temporal exclusives, DLC exclusives, or something else, I don't know. Reply
  • plcn - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    sorry to say, but they're not exclusive at all. they might have some exclusive features ('ignite'?) or early DLC, but the games are confirmed for PS4, too. Reply
  • THizzle7XU - Wednesday, May 22, 2013 - link

    Ignite is only the name of their next gen game engine. Reply

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