Folks, this one is going to be short because it's the easiest case I've ever made. Microsoft wins the next-gen game console launch wars by launching something that the company doesn't even call a console. Where Nintendo offered us a tablet to accompany the millions we had already bought and Sony then offered us a box that we couldn't even see, Microsoft has trumped them both by delivering the Xbox One. Let's tally up the points:
The name. Wii U means something, I'm sure, to someone. PS4 means "we like the past and want to extend it." Xbox One takes a bolder and more important stand by saying, "It's time to reboot the whole category." This is beautifully illustrated in the way that the Xbox presenters never referred to Xbox One as a game console. It is an All In One Home Entertainment System.
The reveal. PS4 famously flopped its launch by hiding the console entirely. That would have been fine last generation, maybe. But this generation comes in the post-Steve Jobs era where the device and its price are shown. Microsoft debuted the box, the new Kinect, and the new controller in the first 60 seconds of the event.
The scope. Wii U and PS4 both promise to provide access to video and other interesting media experiences. Xbox One actually delivers those things in the most satisfying and complete way anyone other than TiVo has done so far, letting you switch from gaming to TV to movies to web browsing with simple voice commands and practically no waiting.
Microsoft’s announcement that it is launching its own first-party hardware for a family of Windows tablets is welcome news: If you want a job done right, do it yourself. While Asus, Lenovo, Nokia, Samsung, and Toshiba are expected to launch their own Windows RT products this year, other major OEMs are notably absent from the list, either because they’re focused on x86 devices first or because they were locked out of the launch like HTC. Microsoft's Surface tablets will run on both chipsets.
Microsoft has so many assets to bring to its own hardware: Smartglass, a “Kinect camera,” Skype, Barnes & Noble Nook content, Microsoft Office (although that won’t be exclusive to Windows), just to name a few. While skeptics rightly criticize past Microsoft hardware failures like the Zune player, Xbox is a more recent example of resounding success. With the next generation of the Xbox “720” due out soon, Microsoft will have ample opportunity to bundle and promote the two products together and sell its tablets through the same consumer retail channels — although to start at least, the Surfaces will only be available at Microsoft Stores and online, which certainly limits adoption potential.
This product line marks a crucial pivot in Microsoft’s product strategy. It blends the Xbox first-party hardware model with the Windows ecosystem model. It puts the focus on the consumer rather than the enterprise. And it lets Microsoft compete with vertically integrated Apple on more even ground.
Tablets aren’t the most powerful computing gadgets. But they are the most convenient.
They’re bigger than the tiny screen of a smartphone, even the big ones sporting nearly 5-inch screens.
They have longer battery life and always-on capabilities better than any PC — and will continue to be better at that than any ultrathin/book/Air laptop. That makes them very handy for carrying around and using frequently, casually, and intermittently even where there isn’t a flat surface or a chair on which to use a laptop.
And tablets are very good for information consumption, an activity that many of us do a lot of. Content creation apps are appearing on tablets. They’ll get a lot better as developers get used to building for touch-first interfaces, taking advantage of voice input, and adding motion gestures.
They’re even better for sharing and working in groups. There’s no barrier of a vertical screen, no distracting keyboard clatter, and it just feels natural to pass over a tablet, like a piece of paper, compared to spinning around a laptop.
Wearable devices, or “wearables” for short, have enormous potential for uses in health and fitness, navigation, social networking, commerce, and media. Imagine video games that happen in real space. Or glasses that remind you of your colleague’s name that you really should know. Or paying for a coffee at Starbucks with your watch instead of your phone. Wearables will transform our lives in numerous ways, trivial and substantial, that we are just starting to imagine.
In a new Forrester report out today, we argue that wearables will move mainstream once they get serious investment from the “big five” platforms — Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and Facebook — and their developer communities, and we give advice to product strategists who want to stay ahead of the wearables curve. Key takeaways:
There are rare moments in technology when everything changes. When the entire framework defining how we interact with machines (and consequently, each other) shifts perceptibly. That happened when the TV was invented, it happened when the computer mouse was made available commercially. These kinds of changes forever alter our economics, our social life, and our individual experiences.
It's now about to happen again. Only this time, the shift that is coming is on such a large scale that not only will it change things dramatically, it will usher in a new era in human economics (and therefore, everything else).
We call the new era the Era of Experience. I'm working furiously to complete a report detailing all the specifics so you'll understand what this era entails and, importantly, what you can do to anticipate this era rather than follow it.
In fact, at our Customer Experience Forum in New York City during the last two days in June, I gave an exclusive preview to the 600+ attendees of what the Era of Experience was. In my speech, I gave a live demo of the PrimeSense technology that the people at Xbox built on to create the Kinect for Xbox 360 platform. This platform incorporates a full-body gesture control interface, voice control, and face recognition. It's as if all the science fiction we've been reading for decades was really just a how-to manual for Kinect. Oh, and this future-defining platform costs all of $149.99 at Amazon.
This will be an unusual post for me. No big industry event to comment on, no data to reveal. Nope. Today, I'm just sharing with you how much fun I (and 5 million other people by year-end) am having with Kinect.
Yes, that is my hand, and yes, that is more of me than you expected/wanted to see. If you look closely at the big knuckle on my index finger, you'll see two white slivers embedded in the flesh above the knuckle. Those are slivers of glass. They are embedded there because in going up to smash a volleyball over the virtual net, I slammed my finger through a lightbulb, tearing the flesh from my knuckle and allowing random pieces of glass to find their way into my finger.
No, I am not going to sue Microsoft (though I'm sure someone else will eventually try, which is why Kinect is absolutely peppered with warnings to be careful, they are clearly anticipating a lawsuit at some point).
It turns out I'm not alone. Search YouTube for "Kinect Fail" and you will find lots of video of people elbowing each other, smacking each other on the head, and so on. In my older New England home, all of my guests above six feet tall have a tendency to smash the ceiling with their hands -- one very tall friend actually did the long jump with such enthusiasm that he smashed his head into the ceiling. Both the ceiling and the head survived in tact.
I'm in the business of identifying when there's a change in the wind coming that will push us in a new direction. On balance, I've been successful. So much so, that when something I staked my career on becomes commonplace, people are so used to it that they look back and think I was only pointing out the obvious. Like when the most senior faculty member in the advertising department at Syracuse University rejected the "Interactive Advertising" course I proposed to teach in 1996 because online advertising was "just a fad." I took a stand and got to teach the class, over his objections. Fast forward to today and online advertising is so obvious that predicting it is a thankless task.
I say this because I am about to take a stand I want you to remember. Ready? Starting November 4th, Kinect for Xbox 360 will usher us into a new era Forrester has entitled the Era of Experience. This is an era in which we will revolutionize the digital home and everything that goes along with it: TV, internet, interactivity, apps, communication. It will affect just about everything you do in your home. Yes, that, too.
I've just completed a very in-depth report for Forrester that explains in detail why Kinect represents the shape of things to come. I show that Kinect is to multitouch user interfaces what the mouse was to DOS. It is a transformative change in the user experience, the interposition of a new and dramatically natural way to interact -- not just with TV, not just with computers -- but with every machine that we will conceive of in the future. This permits us entry to the Era of Experience, the next phase of human economic development.
Today, Cisco unveiled its home telepresence solution called Umi (prounounced you-me, get it?). For those of us who aren't familiar with Cisco's use of the term telepresence, it's a term it coined to describe the very impressive (and very expensive) enterprise immersive videoconferencing experience it provides to businesses around the world. In the home, it basically means TV-based videoconferencing.
The home offering is similar to the enterprise version in two key ways -- it is also impressive and expensive. Starting November 14, affluent consumers who really want to connect with family across great distances (and who are either unaware of or uninterested in Skype) can put down $599 and sign up for a $24.99 monthly Umi service fee and become HD videoconferencers. I tried the system in a real home and I'll admit the quality is eye-opening. As is the price. Read more of the details here in this post from CNET, but some of the less obvious points include: video voicemail, video voicegreetings, and the ability to record video messages when not connected to someone else. The camera rests above your TV screen and makes for one of the most believable videoconference setups I've seen (the person you speak to actually appears to be looking at you, imagine that). The whole experience rides on top of the existing video input so that while you watch TV you can see a message indicating a call is coming in. Choose not to take it and it will go to video voicemail. There are nice touches like a privacy-minded sliding shutter over the camera (complete with "shooshing" noise when the shutter closes) that helps you know via the senses of sight and sound that your camera is not on. So go ahead and give the missus a kiss while on the couch, no one is looking.
The future is here, folks, and the gaming industry is the first to get us there. Today I leave E3, the gaming industry's biggest US convention. When all is said and done, roughly 45,000 people will have come through LA's convention center -- most of them as nerdy as you're imagining right now -- to play the newest games, demo the latest hardware, and collectively drool over hyper-realistic zombies, aliens, robots, and other baddies game designers have placed in our digital sights.
At this E3 we have witnessed more advances in living room technology than the cable, consumer electronics, or the computer industry (yes, that includes Apple) have managed to pull off in many years of trying. Let me summarize:
It's late, this is just a short note to let you know that today I saw the future and what I saw was so stunning I couldn't go to sleep without telling you about it first. The future is the new Xbox 360 that debuted at Microsoft's E3 press conference today -- not just the improved hardware which ships to stores today and costs the same as the previous hardware -- but Xbox Kinect. This is Microsoft's long-awaited full-body natural user interface (NUI) for the Xbox 360, previously codenamed Project Natal and now branded as Kinect.
Kinect is everything. Kinect is the future of everything. Kinect is to the next decade what the operating system was to the 1980s, what the mouse was to the 1990s, and what the Internet has been ever since. It is the thing that will change everything. Once we've all been Kinected, we will never go back. You'll shop, communicate, chill out, engage, and debate using technology that can see you, image you in three dimensions, and interact with you in ways that are cooler than the most far-out science fiction, yet completely natural.
I could explain it, I could try, but I won't. Instead, I'll just encourage you to watch the last hour or so of the press conference yourself (though if you follow my link, you may also want to watch the first few minutes just to catch the pre-game interview with Felicia Day -- isn't she adorably nerdy?).