Microsoft's initial campaign for the Xbox One caught a lot of people off guard, and the emphasis on TV and entertainment inspired massive amounts of criticism from the community at large. I was a part of that camp. Console announcements are a big deal, and people want games front and center, not Skype and cable TV integration. After meeting with Microsoft to take a look at the final build of the Xbox One OS, I've had a change of heart. What it failed to communicate in a stage presentation finally made sense, and I was instantly sold. It's not that games aren't important, but they are a given. Granted, we won't see the best games at launch, but what Xbox One owners will get isn't available anywhere else.
Traditionally, gaming consoles have been a distinct device connected to a TV. Yes, modern consoles provide some media and entertainment functionality, but these extended features never lived up to the corporate hype. Where I see the Xbox One as different, and better than these initial attempts, is the execution and breadth of integration with modern entertainment and social habits.
Take Skype, for example. Reaching out to anyone over Xbox Live on the Xbox 360 is a chore, and it's common to reach for your phone to rope logged-off buddies into a multiplayer session. Consider a scenario where all of your gaming friends own an Xbox One. If, like a lot of people able to game at a moment's notice, your friends are watching TV through the Xbox One, you can ping them through the TV for a Skype chat. Better yet, you can send them a game invite and they'll see it overlaid across the bottom of whatever they're watching. Thanks to the Xbox One's snappy multitasking capabilities and Kinect integration, it only takes a second to hop into a video call or into a game, while simultaneously pausing whatever movie or TV show you're watching. When you're finished, simply revert back to what you were doing without having missed a beat.
The snappiness, and quality of video calls, is another point worth considering. During our demo, Microsoft's Yusuf Mehdi went from watching football to video chatting with a distant co-worker in the blink of an eye. Granted, there was probably an exceptional internet connection piping through this particular facility, but the Kinect's camera captured and transmitted an extremely clear image. It's also efficient, cropping the image to succinctly frame whomever is sitting in the room. If anyone stands up and walks towards the edge of the frame, the cropped portion of the image expands, virtually moving with the person on the other end of the camera.
This, to me, was a prime example of how the power of the Kinect integration can reinvent interaction. It was personal, non-invasive to either party, and as high quality as you'd hope. Better still, when it was a game invite rather than a Skype call, it took seconds to jump in and join a multiplayer session. Both features worked well, and present a strong argument for Microsoft's unique approach to a modern gaming console.
This is what got Microsoft into hot water during E3, but I think it will give it the upper hand in the long run. You use your TV for two things, in most cases: watching TV and playing games. Not only does the cable integration work, but it personalizes the experience based on who's in front of the TV. Thanks to Kinect, it's a painless process. It already knows who's commanding the Xbox One once the TV is on, and by that point, your favorite channels and recorded programs are ready and waiting. The Kinect's IR blaster even negates the need for a remote. So it not only simplifies the TV-watching process; it also makes it smarter, and brings it closer to gaming with the live notification features mentioned earlier. Seeing all of these moving parts in action, I quickly realized that Microsoft knows exactly what it's doing.
In the end, it no longer seems to me that Microsoft is disconnected from its core audience. If anything, it's adding value to the gaming experience by integrating gaming into everything one would do when they aren't actively playing. From another perspective, it's also found ways to expand the Xbox One demographic, which might not care about games in the end, but doing so won't harm or hinder the experience for people who do. Of course, the demo I saw took place in a controlled environment. We may find that once millions of people have Xbox Ones in hand, that its "revolutionary" features fail to make an impact. At the end of the day, I'm happy that Microsoft is trying. What's better: it isn't taking baby steps. On day one, the Xbox One will offer not just a new gaming console, but also a new living room experience.