While one tech titan was defending its (lack of) tax payments to the United States Senate, another introduced its first truly cutting-edge product in many moons. Tuesday saw the unveiling of Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Xbox One. Now, this isn't your 12-year-old nephew's gaming console, it's a formidable and first-of-its-kind effort to create an interactive, all-encompassing home entertainment set-top box. While gamers and game-makers will rejoice with news of a new, top-of-the-line console, investors should be tingling with excitement -- because this may be the most compelling thing to come out of Redmond since Windows 95.
The above paragraph has some lofty statements, I know. Moreover, I have not seen one of the machines in person nor witnessed firsthand its capability. To top it off, after Tuesday's announcement, Microsoft's stock remained nearly unchanged. Apparently Wall Street was unmoved by the highly anticipated unveiling. Competitor Sony soared nearly ten points, though the move was not related, as some outlets reported.
Still, am I wrong to believe that this new system is something worth cheerleading?
Let's not dwell on specs that mean nothing to most of us -- one can assume this gaming console has fantastic graphics and will be comparable to the coming Sony Playstation 4. A fancy graphics processor isn't going to send Microsoft back to its glory days of relevancy, anyway.
But the Xbox One does have plenty of headline-worthy features. For one, the console allows for split-screen gaming, television watching, Skype video calling, and more. This is something smart TVs have been trending toward, but haven't quite made the leap. The Xbox One, though not a TV, is the first device we have seen to offer full split-screen functionality. Users can play Call of Duty while talking to Grandma via Skype. While you are watching Iron Man via Netflix streaming on your Xbox One, you can simultaneously Google (I mean, Bing?) how much Robert Downey Jr. is paid for each film, and why that'll never happen to you. The possibilities are endless! But seriously, this feature has important implications for the future of TV-based content consumption.
Cable companies and their advertisers are concerned with the increasing inefficacy of commercia breaks. For one, we have devices that enable us to skip ads entirely. But even when they are on our TVs, we are more and more likely to mute the TV and pick up our iPads. A three-minute dedicated commercial run just isn't hacking it anymore. With split-screen, multifunctioning abilities, Microsoft can offer advertisers a unique (and likely more effective) way to reach out to viewers, engaging them throughout the viewing process.
Another big deal regarding the Xbox One is its enhanced Kinect and voice control properties. In this light, the device sounds like it has achieved much of what everyone has constantly speculated that Apple will/would/should achieve with its eventual Apple TV. Siri-like interaction with the Xbox One will allow users to manage everything from "power on" to "watch ESPN." That's right, the days of the overwhelmingly blue TV guide menu will soon be a thing of the past -- at least for Xbox One owners.
A real product
Though a fan of Microsoft as a stock, I have rarely been impressed with a product offering from the company. It nearly always seems as if the Redmond-based company is putting out afterthought, catch-up products that still aren't as good as a certain Cupertino competitor's.
The Xbox One seems different. It is much, much more than a gaming console, and has implications for the future of television, all while putting Microsoft deep in the game.
Of course, we'll know more as time goes on, and it will be interesting to see what Sony throws out on June 10th for its PS4 unveiling. But for a first impression, well, I'm impressed.