The Xbox has long been Microsoft’s MVP in the consumer electronics market but Microsoft blogger Paul Thurrott has started sounding the alarm that the new Xbox One might prove to be as polarizing as Windows 8 has been. Thurrott’s reasoning is that Microsoft is trying to make the Xbox One more than just a gaming console that also has access to key apps such as Netflix, Hulu and Internet Explorer. Rather, it’s an all-purpose entertainment console that serves as the main interface for live television, that delivers Skype connectivity on your television and that basically aims to take over your entire living room.
While this is certainly ambitious, Thurrott worries that it will deliver a fragmented experience in much the same way that Windows 8 fragments user experience by forcing them to shift back and forth between the Desktop and Live Tiles interfaces.
Thurrott’s fear is understandable. When I first learned that the Xbox One would run three separate operating systems — one for gaming, one for PC-like functionality and a third to connect the two — my heart seized a bit. Was Microsoft really going to wreck the Xbox’s traditionally clean, simple user interface and muck it up with confusing new features?
The answer, I hope, is “No.” The major reason to be optimistic on this front is simply that it would be very difficult for Microsoft to replicate the confusion it created with Windows 8 on the Xbox One. For example, it’s highly doubtful that Microsoft will force gamers to start up their Xbox in “television mode” as Windows 8 forced PC users to boot up their computers with Live Tiles.
More importantly, the Xbox One isn’t trying to implement a whole new type of interface on the console as Microsoft tried to do for PCs when it implemented touch capabilities. Presumably all features on the Xbox One will be designed primarily for use on the Xbox One controller, with Kinect voice-recognition capabilities strictly optional. The only way that Microsoft could replicate the Windows 8 experience here would be if the TV menu was designed primarily for voice while the gaming menu was designed primarily for controllers.
Now, that’s not to say that the Xbox One won’t have a lot of features that could potentially upset its user base — the new Kinect sensor’s ability to watch and record your every move seems rather creepy to say the least. But I’m personally going to give the company the benefit of the doubt when it comes to implementing more entertainment features on the Xbox, largely because making a hybrid between a gaming console and a TV set-top box seems much less fraught with peril than creating a PC-tablet hybrid.