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