My next-gen Xbox wishlist

Xbox is due for a refresh this year and it's a good time to write my wishlist. I’ve been accused of being a Windows fanboy, which I’m not. I’ve also been accused of being a Windows Phone fanboy. No again. But I’ve never been accused of being an Xbox fanboy, which I absolutely am.

With the Xbox, Microsoft has a stellar platform on its hands. The console has gone from a third place alsoran to a major player in the console wars: a strategy Microsoft desperately needs to adapt to Windows Phone, but that’s a different article. As the world of computing shifts to mobile, so is gaming, allowing companies like Apple to get into the business. What do vendors that build consoles need to do to adjust their strategy? I can’t say much for Sony or Nintendo because I don’t use those platforms anymore. For Microsoft, here’s my wish list for the next Xbox platform update that I think will allow it to remain a major gaming industry player despite the shift to mobile computing.

Fix Xbox Music/Video

This has to be my single biggest disappointment from the Xbox team. As a fan, I have never felt more let down then when this turd released. Zune worked very well, despite some key features like cloud music, or playlist syncing between devices. Xbox Music as it stands right now is almost useless and for those of whom were former Zune users, Microsoft owes an apology. Music match barely works. Playlist syncing issues/complaints/support requests go unanswered by Microsoft.

Xbox Music should be the service that takes down all the other players in this space. My wish is for a social component that lets me see what my friends are listening to and be able to share playlists with them. But here’s the problem with that. There aren’t that many people out there who actually use Xbox for music. None of my friends do. Almost all of them are on Spotify. So how do they get around this? Perhaps, hook into the Spotify service (assuming the API is open and will allow this) and expose what my friends are listening to or perhaps do it through Facebook for those friends who publicize their listening habits through that service.

Also, I wish for Microsoft to release a cloud music locker that allows me to stream my music to whatever device I am using. Fix playlist syncing because right now it doesn’t work. If I create a playlist on my PC it should automatically sync to my phone, Xbox or tablet.

For Xbox video, please release a service that allows videos I purchase on one device to be playable on others. Enable more SmartGlass capable content and make them easily discoverable, and if you need to charge a dollar more for it, that’s fine, but please add more content.

Can we get a subscription service for video? I realize Hollywood content producers are the major barrier here so I understand if this is a pipe dream that will never happen. But something has to be done to differentiate Xbox Video from all the other services out there.

Microsoft has officially announced that it is moving into producing their own content for Xbox. Hopefully this means the console will gain more TV-like services such as the ability to record live TV like a DVR. I would wholeheartedly welcome this. Netflix nailed it with House of Cards and producing content is the future for platforms that want to be taken seriously in the video space.

Make Skype Available

I don’t understand why there is no Skype app on the current console. Hopefully this is coming in 2013. But I don’t just want to be able to call my friends on their consoles, phones and other devices. I want you to take it up a notch and call another Xbox/PC/tablet in my own home. This would be awesome for a parent who needs to get in touch with a kid in another room to come eat dinner.

Let Xbox "See" More

Here’s what I mean. The console currently works very nicely as a PlayTo and SmartGlass enabled device. But for the content that I don’t necessarily have uploaded to SkyDrive, Xbox should be able to see and play all my content in the My Music and My Videos and My Pictures folders on all my PCs/Devices. I know I can currently on Windows 8 use PlayTo and shoot this content to my Xbox. But I don’t think the PlayTo interface in the desktop is the easiest interface to use.

Release a Smarter Xbox

The natural user interface in the current Xbox platform enabled by Kinect is a great feature that I actually use on a regular basis. Do I use it every day? No. There’s no way I would sit in front of my TV gesturing to it. As much as I use my Xbox, this would get really tiring. However, when I need it, the feature is there and ready to work. And it works quite well for me. This is what makes technologies like Kinect so "natural". When I lose my remote, as I often do, I usually just end up talking to the console.

However, I understand this is not exactly ideal when you find yourself in a situation where you can’t find your remote but your room is so loud, there’s no way Xbox will accurately hear you. While gesturing is available, if you need to get to an app or a TV, the arms can tire quickly. A smarter Xbox will allow me to use my phone or other mobile device as a microphone to talk to my Xbox. This would reduce interference from other sources and allow the Xbox to clearly understand my commands.

A smarter Xbox will also allow me to control other wifi enabled devices in my home. Perhaps devs can write apps that hook into such devices.

Wouldn’t it be great if the console understood my usage behavior and adjusted the interface accordingly? Let me explain. Let’s say every day after I get home around 4:30pm the first thing I do is turn on my Xbox and open the HBO GO app, because I’m watching Game of Thrones Season 2. A smarter Xbox would observe this pattern and ask if I wanted this automatically done for me, so that when I get home it’s already cued up to the next episode or the spot where I left off. But what if for some reason, I’m working late one day. I wouldn’t want the console turned on and sucking up unnecessary electricity. To get around this,  the console could enable the ability to log into my Xbox account online and turn off or reprogram it for another time.

Expand Kinect

Kinect should pushed to other platforms like Windows (Bill Gates has said this is coming) but my point in this article is about the console. If the Xbox team decides to release other devices (more on that next) these devices should include Kinect capabilities whether they be in gaming related scenarios or navigating the interface or both.

Not only should Kinect expand to other platforms, it should be improved for natural language scenarios. It’s time for Microsoft to put all that speech data it’s been collecting since the release of Kinect to work. It’s 2013 and computing devices like Xbox (or any other Xbox-enabled device) should be able to understand natural language. This capability should be made available to app developers as well.

Bring out More Devices

A 7-inch gaming/media consumption device should come from the Xbox team. It should be the ultimate smart device and should allow me to control my console and vice versa. This device should permit me to play games with others who are on the console (more on this later). It should have access to all the Xbox media apps, including apps from the Windows Phone and Windows stores. This device should cost no more than $200 and could potentially be sold in a bundle with the new Xbox.

Besides a 7-inch tablet device, the console needs a small TV streaming media only device with integrated Kinect. I love my console, and I have one in every room, but $300 is a lot to spend for a media device. Release a $99 (or less) media device that has access to all the media apps available on the console and also includes Skype and the ability to push/pull content from all Windows devices (phones, pc’s, tablets).

Open the App Platform

Apple is a serious threat. I know many people don’t think so but here’s why guys like Gabe Newell are correct about Apple in the living room. Apple already has a massive platform in iOS and the app catalog as far as gaming goes is tremendous. If all the company did in 2013 was open up Apple TV to developers and their app gaming catalog, that’s enough to do some serious damage to Microsoft’s living room strategy.

Xbox should get out ahead of this and open the app platform up to all developers for a nominal registration fee. This should not just be for gaming but for media apps as well. Xbox should be able to run on a new apps platform that gets as close to write-once-run-anywhere as humanly possible. A company like HBO should be able to write one app and have it be able to run on any sized screen from a phone all the way up to a TV screen.

This would require the Xbox having the same core as other Windows devices (phones/PC/tablet) but the rumor is that this is most likely going to happen (or why else would you move the NT guy to the Xbox team?) and I cannot help but think that one of the benefits of this is a more unified app development platform.

Create a Real-time Multi-player Multi-device Gaming Platform

I saved this for last because even if Microsoft does not come through on any of my other wishes, this is the one that I think will set the Xbox platform apart from any platform available today. Microsoft has already demoed the ability of a Windows Phone to interact with the console. Remember the YouTube video of the person sitting on the couch with a Windows Phone interacting with the Kinect dodge ball game while a guy in the same room played the game from the console?

What we have so far is pause/resume across devices. Skull of the Shogun is the best example of this. This game can be purchased on Windows Phone, Windows 8 (PC/tablet) and the XBOX. Users can play on one device, pause and continue play on another. While this is great, what is really needed is a way for users in games like Halo or Call of Duty can play multiplayer in real-time regardless of device. There are definitely challenges to this when you are on a screen the size of a phone, but that doesn’t mean those players have to be left out of the game. Perhaps players on the phone can operate in support roles.

There are other games that are great for this scenario: racing games. We already play them on phones and they would be perfect for a new platform like this. Can you imagine Forza on Windows Phone? Microsoft already is seriously lacking in its attempts to push the Xbox platform to Windows Phone. I think it’s absolutely embarrassing that they have not successfully turned Windows Phone into a stellar gaming platform. You have the most successful game platform in the United States and you cannot leverage that onto your struggling mobile platform? Unacceptable.

Conclusion

So there you have it. My Xbox wish list for this year. I intentionally left off this list is specific games and media apps (like Spotify and Amazon Music) as I am sure Microsoft will come up with some pretty amazing solutions in this area. I’m sure there’s something you can add to this to make it even better. What do you think should be added to this list?

Update: As I was writing this article, GameLoft released a racing game for Windows Phone 8 called Asphalt 7. This game includes real-time multiplayer with other phone devices. This is a great start! Hopefully Microsoft plans more releases like this that are expanded to other devices as well.

Photo Credit: Joe Wilcox

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