Since everyone has bitched about the lack of details from the Xbox conference regarding games, I want to take a second to ignore all of that. Games run in a "partition" on the Xbox One that will allow them to run as "close to the metal" as possible. Game developers are known to push the limits of a device, so they're given pretty full access to machine. The games will be better and they'll be awesome, as they have with every console release. Get it?
Cool, so on to the important stuff.
Owning the Living Room
The battle has been raging for many years over the living room, and there are no clear winners. With the TiVo, PS3, Xbox 360, Roku, Apple TV, Boxee Box, Google TV, etc. we have a plethora of options, but nothing that stands out as a clear winner. We see this across the board with every technology: several companies race to be first, but in the end it's the one that rebuilds after the dust settles that wins.
- Flickr, Photobucket, Snapfish... Instagram wins.
- MySpace, Friendster, LiveJournal... Facebook wins.
- Nokia, Blackberry, Windows Mobile... iPhone wins (at least in NA).
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So is the case with the Xbox One. They've come to dominate the living room and haven't left anything to chance. Let's go through a quick list to appreciate what Microsoft has paid attention to (did I just say that?):
- Voice control
- Incredibly powerful Kinect (toss the remotes, at least for media apps)
- Always-on: people like to complain about this but people also like to complain about having to run constant updates (e.g. PS3). The Roku is always on, and that seems to work pretty damn well. Plus if you have a DVR, that's always on, so shut up about it if you're one of the whiners.
- Personalized: each user of the console has their own customized dashboard, EPG, etc.
- Gamification: media apps now will be allowed to award achievements, and as we've seen over the last 6 years, this can be leveraged to amazing effect.
I want to list more. Many, many more, but I did say a "quick" list so let's leave it at that. However, it does segue nicely into the one feature I think trumps them all, and it seems so simple...
The Killer Feature: Instant Resume
The killer feature of the Xbox One isn't the EPG, which is what you might think based on all Microsoft talks about it.
No, instead it's the instant-resume. To really convey this, let's reframe the context of this. We're going to talk about you as the user, so use your imagination and think of your favorite shows and movies.
Maybe last night you were halfway through that movie you've seen dozens of times (Fight Club? The Notebook?) and just couldn't stick it out and went to bed. You say "Xbox One" and the console wakes up (remember, it's already on) and in less than 2 seconds you're where you've left off and the movie is playing. Niiice.
While that seems like a really small feature, it's not. Technology give us time/labor-saving tools, and this is one of them. It certainly saves time, but it also reduces the nuisance level. Here's a true example:
Since the Roku update, the rendition switching algorithm has reminded me of the old days of Real Player ("buffering..."). So I switched back to using my Xbox for Netflix, Hulu and Amazon since it looked better. I informed my lady of this, and yet she still used the Roku. I asked once, after it switched streams for the third time in 10 minutes, why she was still using the Roku. She said "it's just easier" and that was all I needed to hear. She's right. Most people will always opt for the easy option first when it comes to technology because most people don't have the patience to deal with it. As an owner of hundreds of slowly-dying optical media (thank you Microsoft for including a Blu-Ray drive), I noticed this firsthand. Many times I've chosen a movie off of Netflix or Amazon that I already own on Blu-Ray, but the ease-of-use to get it up and running with my Roku is so easy that I just grab that remote.
And that's where Xbox One truly shines. It makes getting to my content so painless that I'll wonder how I ever did it another way.
If you own a smartphone then there's likely a time you didn't own a smartphone. Now that you know what both sides are like, you probably won't go back. My guess is that the Xbox One will be the same way, and that while the other features are enough to sell the console on its own, the instant-resume feature will be what keeps you turning it back on time after time.