Microsoft is set to release its next-generation console, the Xbox One, on Friday — just a week after the PlayStation 4 hit store shelves.
The Xbox is $100 more than Sony’s new console: $499, likely because of the included Kinect, vs. $399. And it will have to have a good first day of sales to outdo the PlayStation’s early numbers — 1 million units of the PlayStation 4 were sold in its first 24 hours, Sony reported.
But Microsoft has a clear competition strategy. The debut comes eight years, to the day, after Microsoft first released Xbox 360, a console that clawed its way to the top of the gaming market thanks largely to its connected-console features. (Exclusives like Halo, of course, didn’t hurt either.) Xbox users spend more time with non-gaming functions than games, Microsoft has said, and that usage is reflected in how the company has designed and advertised its console.
That means that, for Microsoft, the “extra” parts of the console, such as access to streaming video sites, have been touted as very central to the Xbox. And now, more than ever, the firm is making it clear that this is a Microsoft product. The console’s navigation system is very consciously made-over in the Windows 8 style, with tiles and features such as “Snap,” which lets users run two apps side-by-side. Integration with Microsoft apps, such as SkyDrive, and Skype — which works through the Kinect’s camera — are everywhere.
Speaking of the Kinect, the Xbox team has deliberately built the console around the motion and voice sensor, rather than having it as a peripheral. The range of voice control options that Microsoft has showcased so far covers the vast majority of things that users will want to do on the console, such as watching live television, opening games and — perhaps most importantly — switching between them. Kinect also recognizes your voice and reads your face and skeletal structure as a way to log you into the device. Multiple accounts can also log into the device, so multiple family members can easily have the console navigate to their personal content while they all sit on the couch.
Underlying all those features, of course, is a powerful gaming machine designed to bring next-generation graphics and processing to the living room. The games Microsoft is releasing at launch range from new versions of established series, such as Forza Motorsport 5, and original game exclusives, such as the Kinect-heavy Ryse: Son of Rome. The computing power of the Xbox One is also designed to let users dip in and out of games quickly, automatically pausing games while they open other apps. Gamers can also use the Snap feature to play games side-by-side with other apps, so that, for example, you can watch a football game while you play one of your own.
All these features are meant to appeal to a broader base of gamers, rather than the core gamers Sony is focusing on. That does put Xbox at a bit of a disadvantage: On Tuesday, for example, the firm said that the ability to stream gameplay live — one core feature on the PlayStation 4 — will not appear on the Xbox One until 2014.
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