First Known Feature for the Next Xbox: Cloud
I’m really not a big fan of Microsoft or the 360. When the original Xbox came out, I thought their game selection was terrible, limited, and lacking any sort of creativity or imagination. The Halo System, I called it, because that was all that was worth playing. Now that we’re in the 360 era, I see a massive improvement in the platform, in terms of innovation and variety, though their game selection is still a little too ‘bro-ham’ for me, and I’ll never forgive them for year after year of technological botches.
But, looking ahead, Microsoft and their Xbox descendant might just be the only platform that ‘gets it’.
The quote has been bandied about for years, that Nintendo believes Apple to be their only true competition, the only company that might be able to crush them in the gaming market. Indeed many online have thought that Apple might even make moves to buy Nintendo. I personally thought that Nintendo might reveal an alliance with Apple for their next system, which would have been a truly revolutionary move. Instead, we got the Wii U, a cool idea that still needs a lot of tweaks to truly be revolutionary, or even ‘next gen’.
Today, we got an epic cocktease from Microsoft’s Brian Prince, who spoke at GDC China “you will be seeing things in the Xbox platform that’s cloud-specific. I’m already doing it, it’s really exciting, but I can’t tell you about it or else I’ll get fired.”
In business, especially on a tremendous, macro-economic scale, there are basically three possible paths you can take. A business can either go against the grain, make some incredible new innovation, and become a giant, or they can go against the grain, create a new innovation that doesn’t really take them to the level of the big boys, and so the other giants eat them up, or they can adapt to the advances of others, merge, make alliances, or generally just steal them for their own.
… and, you can probably also just crash and burn, or have some sort of major corporate buyout… shut up, I’m just sticking with three paths for right now. This is all hypothetical anyway…
But, my point is, is that Nintendo has recognized Apple as the next big competitor of the future. This is all with good reason. There are few companies coming out with as many technological innovations as Apple, and certainly none that are as widely embraced by the consumer market. We talk about how system sales are doing, and how much money video games are dragging in, but those numbers are basically bullshit compared to the iPhone, iPad, iPod, and all of their ancillary apps, softwares, peripherals, add-ons, whojibs, and samoflanges. Apple is the only company selling devices in the Wii range of sales, and their software sales are more consistent and more profitable across the board. With Cloud coming out, Apple threatens to make data download, transfer, back-up, and storage so goddamn easy that they are on the verge of complete home-media domination, with only the more prominent Windows loaded PCs standing in their way.
I could go on… and in fact, I have. For a bit more about what I expect from my future tech, and what only Apple has been delivering in that regard, check out this post from last year, which in turn links to an article from six years before. This is what we’ve been crawling towards for ages, Apple just happened to beat Microsoft to their very similar goals.
And what are the three titans of gaming doing about all of this?
Nintendo, as always, refuses to play along with anyone else’s shit. I think the Wii U is proof of that. They want to wear the big-boy pants, and if they can’t do things their own way, then fuck-all. I’ll give them points, though, for being unique. Their system, that controller, its all uniquely Nintendo, while the lines between Sony and Microsoft have become rather blurred. But, despite that unique brand, Nintendo also doesn’t learn well from the areas where its competition has been successful, ignoring gamers’ demands for better graphics, online gameplay, and more adult titles, almost until it was too late. The Wii U hopes to solve these issues, but if anything, they are just catching up in these departments with what the other two have already been doing for years. Nintendo needs to advance beyond the status quo in the next gen. They are the smallest company, with the least amount of other products (ie, TVs or PCs) to keep them afloat. A weak game system could put them in a terribly vulnerable spot. If they’re going to be such loaners, they really need to lead the pack in every regard.
As for Sony… I have no idea what the hell they’re doing. No one really does. They dominated the two previous systems, and have been stuck in a pretty frustrating third place in this generation, despite putting out arguably the best hardware, and aggressively catching up their game library with the 360′s 1-year headstart. Finally, they’re about equal with 360 in console sales (some charts say they’ve exceeded, others not), but compared to their once-crushing market share control, they’re just a shadow of their former selves. It could be that they’re taking a smart ‘wait and see’ attitude to the whole thing, or developing something really revolutionary in secret… but no one really can say one way or the other.
But Microsoft… in the article that the article I linked to above links to (are you still following me, here?) , they had dreams of something cloud-like in their visions for the Xbox, then for the 360. Visions of a network of entertainment devices that were all as one. Your Zune was linked to your 360, was linked to your PC, was linked to your Cellphone, was linked to your portable HD, was linked to your DVR, was linked to your Fleshlight, etc, etc. This would ensure that each household that invested in their system would also pattern all of their other portable devices around Microsoft, and give the big M total proprietary control over all the software in the abode. And, once internet neutrality is gone (fuck you, government), they could then control all access over what kind of content you were ingesting…
… well, okay, that last part kind of sucks, but I like the linked devices idea.
EDIT: This ending part has been edited from the original context because I has a dumb.
Despite their lofty ambitions, Microsoft has been behind Apple and their iCloud developments for sometime. The announcement of iCloud’s nearing launch at last July’s WWDC makes that quite evident. But, Microsoft is quite possibly the most aggressively changing and fan-conscious company in the market, at least when it comes to their game platform. The rapid development between the Xbox and the 360 is evidence of this, as is the ever-changing face of the 360 platform through their software updates over the last few years. Innovations like the Kinect show that the company has more balls than Sony who, with the release of their Move, seem to be in more of a minor-improvement safe-mode kind of mentality. With the incorporation of Cloud into their software, Microsoft shows themselves willing to take the next necessary step to remain a major competitor in the market, while Apple will continue to chip away at Nintendo, and quite possibly at Sony. This move puts them more in line with Google’s vision of a cloud future, where data will proliferate between devices, corporations, and individuals at an unheard of rate, changing, again, the way we absorb and perceive media.
An interesting notion (and also complete speculation), would be that Microsoft might find a way to hack Apple’s iCloud, so that their typically incompatible data streams might mix. No harm in a potential customer already having an iPad if they can link it to a potential 360-or-whathaveyou’s game and movie feed. It might just stem someone from a purchase of an Apple TV. And maybe then, a quality piece of hardware could draw the consumer to purchase an Android device instead of the iPad when its time for a tablet upgrade. Microsoft has been encouraging Android development for some time now, and a bit of Microsoft Cloud and the launch of Amazon’s Kindle Fire might just be enough to keep that market split.
Lord only knows what the final result will be, and maybe I’ve got my hopes set too high. I tend to do that. But just based off of that one sentence, I’m envisioning the future, and it is amazing… of course, I said that six years ago, too. Of course, I still say that the next truly competitive tech monolith will arise when one of the other major consumer brands forms an alliance with Apple. Could you imagine Microsoft and Apple forming a team-up to perfect Cloud technology? THAT, truly, would be an unbeatable titan of tech… and shortly after, some sort of federal court case, I’m sure.