Xbox One Sales Lag PS4 As Microsoft Slowly Figures Out You Can't Tell Gamers What They're Supposed To Want

from the It's-innovative-because-I-say-so dept

Microsoft's Xbox One console (now affectionately referred to as the "Xbone") obviously had a rocky start, with the company having to back away from some of their more obnoxious DRM ambitions (and admittedly a smattering of actually interesting ideas) in response to user backlash. That effectively gave them public perception issues right out of the gate as the next-generation console wars got underway. That allowed Sony to enjoy a stretch of great press simply for giving consumers what they actually wanted and they had assumed was baseline functionality (like oh, the ability to still rent games).

Unsurprisingly, the latest data from the NPD Group suggests Microsoft's stumbles have contributed to Sony selling twice as many PlayStation 4 consoles during the month of January. That's despite some PS4 supply constraints in North America, and the fact that Sony's console has yet to even launch in their home country of Japan. As any good fanboy worth their salt will tell you, it's far too early to read too much into these results. Still, there's numerous obvious lessons here that still somehow haven't penetrated the somewhat thick, public perception shell known to ensconce the Redmond giant.

Microsoft could probably obliterate much of Sony's lead by simply cutting the price by $100 to match the $400 PS4. That, however, would require lopping off the gimmicky head known as their Kinect motion-sensing attachment, something Microsoft seems insistent on believing everybody still finds immensely innovative. Except the lion's share of gamers (there's always exceptions) grew bored with the concept of full-body game controls somewhere in late 2010 (or about two days after it was released). There's also the fact that the new-but-still-gimmicky Kinect 2.0 still just doesn't work very well for many people:
"The Kinect for the Xbox One is a sophisticated, expensive piece of equipment that adds very little to the act of playing games. I'm able to get voice commands to work around 80 percent of the time, but my wife and children have much worse luck...The system is still new, but every Xbox One owner now has a peripheral that has little reason to exist, aids their gaming in very few real ways and costs them a significant amount of money."
You can assume Microsoft will figure this out and offer an Xbox One without a bundled Kinect -- about seventy meetings, four-thousand internal e-mails, and one year from now.

Another stumble came because while Microsoft wanted the console to be the innovative heart of the television experience, the company lacked the courage or aptitude to make that actually happen. Fundamental technologies required by the audiophile set were oddly excluded, like HDMI 5.1 pass through. Microsoft also sacrificed functionality for control; omitting features available in the last generation of consoles like DLNA streaming and MP3 playback capabilities (one can only assume with the purpose of driving users away from piracy or competing services and toward Microsoft and Microsoft partner content). The Roku 3 does significantly more things on the video and music front arguably better, and it's around $90 and the size of a bloated hockey puck.

While many of these issues can be fixed or improved upon with software updates, Microsoft may not have the aptitude to course-correct their biggest stumble: the decision to hitch their shiny, sleek, new, black spacecraft to the innovatively-skittish donkey known as the traditional cable industry.

As with the Xbox 360, Microsoft seems intent on embracing the cable industry's "TV Everywhere" mentality, where the lion's share of your viewing options only work if you subscribe to a particular company's cable or broadband services (sometimes both are required). Cable executives and Microsoft think hamstringing a powerful game console into being a less functional cable box with a fractured viewing experience is the height of innovation. While Microsoft has been tinkering with original content, if the company was truly interested in embracing next-generation options they would have followed Roku's successful lead and embraced a much broader array of "channels" and services appealing to cord cutters -- like Plex.

The PlayStation 4 isn't exempt from criticism, given it too can't play MP3s and lacks DLNA streaming support also courtesy of anti-piracy myopia, but at least it's a console that appears to understand what it is, and Sony's intentions aren't buried under quite as many layers of assumptions and demands as to what consumers are supposed to desire. These consoles have an immensely-long life cycle and an ocean of updates will change them immeasurably over the next decade for better or worse; I have no doubt Microsoft can manage to keep the Xbox One in the contention if not beyond (competition is useful like that). But Microsoft would certainly take things a long way if they would stop telling consumers want they're supposed to want -- and actually deliver what consumers want.

Filed Under: kinect, playstation, ps4, xbox one
Companies: microsoft, sony


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  1. icon
    Michael Becker (profile), 21 Feb 2014 @ 6:35am

    console use

    As someone who has all 3 next gen consoles, I find that currently the Xbox One actually gets the most use, but by far mostly for media. The HDMI pass through does work with 5.1 for most people, you just have to enable it as its still technically a "beta" feature since they can't yet ensure 100% compatibility with all cable boxes. If you have a larger Cable provider (Comcast, Cox, Time Warner et al) you should be fine.

    Right now the biggest issue is the lack of solid games all around, but each console does have great things coming. The Xbox's 100 dollar premium is high, but positioning themselves inbetween your TV and Cable box was genius really. No matter what I'm doing on my TV, the Xbox is always the first thing turned on, as it then turns on my receiver and TV, so they're ensuring they make their platform the simplest to access.

    Also, the reason Kinect is required is specifically because of the media offerings. The IR blasting is done using the Kinect sensor so you don't have to use those old school little dongles running the IR sensor of each device you want to control. It emits the IR signal out the Kinect which then bounces the signal around the room and the devices then pick up the signals and activate. They really should do a better job explaining this to people.

    Overall, I'd say currently if you're a cable TV subscriber Xbox One is the winner if you're into media, tv and some gaming. If you are strictly into gaming then go PS4, as it is slightly more powerful with games running a bit higher res on it.

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