The Xbox One is undeniably a technical achievement. And come tomorrow, it’s going to sell consoles by the pallet unless something has gone horribly wrong. But it might behoove you to hold off for a while. Why?
First, it must be said that Microsoft is planning to stave off console shortages. If you want an Xbox One, you’ll probably be able to get one. The problem is that it’s still $500, compared to the PS4’s $400, and if you’re not interested in the first-party exclusives, there’s just no reason to buy an Xbox One unless you’re really into ordering your TV around by yelling at it.
The Graphics Will Be (Slightly) Lesser Than The PS4 For Six Months To A Year
The Xbox One will have slightly less-good graphics than the PS4 until Microsoft gets some software issues straightened out. As we’ve noted, most people won’t notice the difference, or care about it, for that matter. And it’s safe to say Microsoft is working feverishly to fix this thing; in six months the difference will be gone. But if you care, it’ll be a major issue.
It’s All About The Interface, And You Will Use It Whether You Like It Or Not
As Nick Nadel told you yesterday, Microsoft is very, very gung-ho on that interface. Finally, you can yell at your TV to change channels! Or start playing music! Or… well, whatever you want!
But there has yet to be a review of the console that doesn’t mention that this interface needs serious work; most critics say it functions “80% to 85%” of the time, and that’s just not nearly good enough. Microsoft is going out of its way to force you to yell at your TV to boot; commands that should be simple to do with a controller are needlessly complex for no other reason than they want you to use the Kinect. Here’s Kotaku discussing how to “snap” an app to the side of the screen, a major function of the console, with the controller:
Similarly, you can snap an app to the side of your screen simply by saying, “Xbox, snap Internet Explorer”… or you can pause the game with the home button, select the snap function, pick an app to snap, then double-tap the home button to return to the game.
Yes, these are software problems, and minor ones, which Microsoft will eventually fix. But as early 360 adopters can tell you, being somebody who pays Microsoft to beta-test their hardware isn’t fun. And there’s no reason to put yourself through that.
Its Flagship Features Rely On Too Many Assumptions
This, by far, is the biggest black mark. You can’t fault the Xbox One for a lack of ambition; it wants to be the center of your entertainment universe. The problem is, it’s not flexible enough. Instead it wants you to bend to its needs.
For example, to get the most out of an Xbox One, you need a giant TV; when I attended a TV demo back in May, they had a monstrous screen, easily five feet wide and it’s clear that everything about its TV features are engineered around having a massive flat-screen panel. Admittedly, most developers have the same problem; ask anybody with a TV smaller than wall-size how much fun it is to squint at Assassin’s Creed IV or Batman: Arkham Origins.
The next is that you’ve got lots of space. That’s inherent in the box; it’s nearly twice the size of the PS4. While the Kinect can sense you from three feet away, now, it also assumes you’ve got the space to wave your hands around, or the quiet to bark orders at your TV and be heard. In a dorm room or a small apartment, that can be a tall order.
Finally, it assumes that the TV is your central place, where you watch all your entertainment. That’s just not a safe assumption anymore, as people are more mobile and services multiply.
This isn’t to say it’ll be a useless brick, as it’s got plenty of games and by all accounts is a great game machine. But Microsoft has loftier ambitions, arguably ones they’ve put a pretty big bet on; let’s not forget that this was among other things a rather transparent attempt to make you closer with your cable provider, as it required an always-on Internet connection and is still designed to embrace your cable box, and an equally transparent attempt to get you onto Microsoft’s cloud. Those ambitions have been curbed… but they haven’t gone away.
How Microsoft is going to react when it discovers most customers just jacked this into an HDMI port and never gave its fancy cable features a second thought is anyone’s guess. And it’s better to stay away until we know.
In A Year, It’ll Be Different, and Likely Cheaper
Again, there’s no way in hell the Xbox One rots on the shelf this holiday season. But no console’s ambitions survive contact with consumers. Compare the PS3, an uncomfortably apt analogy to the Xbox One, at launch to what it became; they’re almost two entirely different consoles.
The reality is, in a year, the Xbox One will be completely different, possibly unrecognizable. As consumers ignore the voice features and cable connections, as they almost certainly will, those features will be stripped out. The Kinect is already optional, and they’ll likely start leaving it out of the box within six months for a “budget” box that costs $400. The HDMI In port will likely disappear. The hard drive will become swappable.
In short, the console we really want is on its way. We just have to be patient and let Microsoft figure out that you can’t tell consumers what they want.