Microsoft's 2013 Vision for the Future was Weirdly Accurate
I expect that Microsoft was shocked by the immediate response to the Xbox One. They didn't just want this to be your only game device, they wanted this to be your only entertainment device. And they built, I imagined, the ultimate machine to that end.
A friend of mine cited the Xbox One's failure with a quote that immediately had me rolling my eyes. "Being too far ahead of your time," James Allsworth once said, "is indistinguishable from being wrong."
I just didn't see it. But I believe Microsoft may have seen it that way. And in all fairness, some of the features they tried to push with the Xbox One --digital games, TV as an app, centralized entertainment in general-- were ahead of their time, and unfairly maligned. We now live in an age where everyone gets their games digitally, streaming has overtaken traditional TV, and Google Chromecast puts all your entertainment in a single app.
Even the maligned Kinect and its vocal entertainment controls would be vindicated when just years later, Android's 'Google Now' assistant has become so wildly popular it now operates seamlessly across smartphones, smartwatches, speakers and TVs. Google's devices continues to fly off shelves, even as Microsoft announces the end of Kinect manufacturing.
Microsoft's vision of the future wasn't just interesting, it was prophetically accurate. Their rival Apple has suffered for the opposite reason, with their inability to understand technologies like cloud storage, wireless charging, retinal scanning and virtual reality to blame for the Mac and iPhone's poor sales. It was the same trap Microsoft had fallen into before, but it wasn't the trap they'd fallen into here.
Microsoft had the right technology, and they saw the future correctly. But what they failed to do was implement it in a way that benefitted consumers.
Having an "always-on" console is a great leap forward…technologically. It doesn't benefit the consumer. Having a fully digital entertainment system could benefit the consumer, but Microsoft was talking to an audience that still predominantly watched the live TV. An all digital game library is far more convenient for gamers, but would render their library of used GameStop discs completely useless.
Now, digital game sales dwarf physical copies, GameStop is on the brink of collapse; all our entertainment streams from a single device, and live television has gone the way of the typewriter.
What a difference five years makes. Consumers accepted Microsoft's vision for the future, just the way a dozen different companies chose to describe it.
I truly expect that Microsoft has a better grasp on the future than their competition. Even now, Sony still struggles with online multiplayer, something Microsoft nailed over a decade ago. The Xbox interface is a sleek, futuristic vision straight out of a UX designer's dream, while the PS4 interface resembles a $20 Blu-ray player. I imagine there's dozens of engineers at Microsoft outraged to watch Sony's technologically inferior platform steamroll theirs.
So how did they beat Microsoft? Sony's been selling TV's, set top boxes and electronic gizmos for decades. And Sony knew exactly what they were selling and exactly who they were selling it to. So that's the box we picked off shelves. Being a visionary means nothing if you can't move the box off the shelf.
But Microsoft's ability to pick winners is pretty incredible. They picked a lot of winners; some were relatively easy to see coming, like digital entertainment, but others, like voice controlled media? Centralized entertainment? Always on electronics? It's a remarkably perceptive lineup.
I really hope Microsoft can sell the next Xbox, because I have no doubt it'll have their vision for 2020 and beyond imprinted in it. It'll probably be correct.