Is the Xbox One the Apple TV we've been waiting for?

Is the Xbox One the Apple TV we've been waiting for

Microsoft's Xbox One, unveiled Tuesday at a special event in Redmond, looks to blur the line between gaming and other forms of entertainment like watching TV. Watching Microsoft demonstrate the capabilities of the new system gave me a sense of déjà vu, because a lot of what Microsoft showed are features that pundits and bloggers would love to see from the heretofore mythical Apple television.

I won't recap for you all the features and technologies available in the new system - for that I'll defer to our friends at Windows Phone Central. But the overarching message Microsoft offered was that the Xbox One is the centerpiece of the new home entertainment system. More than a game console, Xbox One serves as the nexus for television viewing, music and other forms of entertainment, and Microsoft is even striking out into original content development with shows created for Xbox Live. Perhaps predictably, they're developing a live action series around Halo.

Microsoft execs veered into Minority Report territory by controlling the Xbox One using hand gestures and voice control. (The Xbox 360 with Kinect can do that now, but on a more limited basis.) Microsoft promises that the Kinect, to be included with Xbox One, is now high resolution enough to recognize your face and measure your heartbeat. Okay, now that I write that out, it sounds a bit creepy. But that's the direction we're moving.

The center of home entertainment?

Some people scratched their heads at the name. Xbox One? But we were already at 360! But it makes sense when you listen to Microsoft's pitch as the Xbox One as the center of home entertainment.

Even the design of the Xbox One speaks to Microsoft's desire to broaden its appeal in the living room beyond mere gaming. The new box looks like a home entertainment appliance. Its squared off, simple lines and black and white trim guarantee the Xbox One will blend in well with a stereo receiver and flat screen TV, rather than drawing attention to itself like a traditional game console.

Microsoft articulated a pretty comprehensive media strategy - original and third party game development, original entertainment content using Xbox Live as the broadcast medium, and integration with the rest of your home entertainment center to simplify the experience.

And if you sift through most of the words written about Apple and its still-imaginary television, you'll find that many of those writers are hoping that Apple's working on the same track. I've read wild-eyed prognostications suggesting that Apple's foray into television would yield us devices that we'd talk with and gesture at; that Apple would be the savior to straighten out the mess of remotes and TV, DVR and cable box interfaces we're currently faced with.

Compared with where we're at today, it's easy to understand the appeal of a single system that unifies our home entertainment experience. It's a problem that's been really difficult to tackle and done with only limited degrees of success. Logitech's Harmony remote was one such attempt, but it remains squarely a niche product. Wealthy homeowners can invest more money than a mid-range sedan in an automated home entertainment system, but that's a solution that's squarely aimed at one percenters.

A changing landscape

It's been eight years since the last Xbox system came out, and the landscapes of both home entertainment and gaming have changed dramatically - when the Xbox 360 debuted, the iPhone was still two years away from being introduced. Game consoles garned huge interactive entertainment dollars.

Console games remain a multibillion dollar industry, but mobile technology and "casual gaming" have made a huge dent in a business that was once considered recession-proof and contraction-proof. What's more, consumers' use of game consoles has changed. In my house, for example, my kids are as likely to watch a Netflix movie streamed on their game console as they are to play a game. And the games they do play are increasingly downloaded from Xbox Live or the PlayStation Store, not bought at a retailer and inserted as a disc.

The Xbox One will remain, at its core, a game console, but it makes sense that Microsoft wants to expand the Xbox One's role as an all-around entertainment center. One that has value to members of the household that simply aren't interested in gaming.

Room for everyone

Maybe Apple is working on some of the same problems Microsoft hopes to tackle with the Xbox One, maybe it isn't. Of one thing I'm certain: the chance is negligible that Apple will rework the Apple TV as a gaming platform, either through installable apps or lower-latency connections to iOS devices: AirPlay is fine for spectating games, but absolutely useless if you want to play game on your iOS device but use the TV as your only display. And if you think it's as easy as just making iOS apps available for the Apple TV, you're not thinking through the actual interface - multitouch doesn't work

Obviously today's Apple TV is not the answer that pundits are looking for. All I know for sure is that until Apple actually has a product to announce, it's all rumor. And that pundits and bloggers have gotten enormous mileage out of a single comment that Tim Cook made in an interview last year when he called television an area of "intense interest" for Apple.

For now, though, Microsoft is positioning the Xbox One as the centerpiece of the home entertainment system. And at least as it's envisioned today, the Apple TV is little more than a sideshow. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Home entertainment is big business, and there's plenty of room for different companies with different ideas. Apple's done quite nicely for itself up to now without dominating the entire living room.

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Peter Cohen

Mac Managing Editor of iMore and weekend Apple Product Professional at a local independent Apple reseller. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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Reader comments

Is the Xbox One the Apple TV we've been waiting for?


Funny you say that Apple aren't "dominating the living room". Perhaps I'm unusual, but my Apple TV gets around 5x the "screen time" of my PS3 or 360. I haven't played a game on the PS3 in 2 years, and play on the 360 maybe 2 hours a week. I play "casual" games on my iPad or iPhone, "serious" games on my PC, and very little elsewhere.

Between Netflix, iTunes Match, YouTube, and AirPlay, I've got almost all the entertainment content I'm likely to want going to my TV, though a tiny, low-powered box that doesn't raise the temperature of the entire room when it's working.

My PS3 has been relegated to Blu-Ray duty, and my 360's Kinect has been disconnected (dis-Kinected?) because I find its accidental voice and gesture recognition infuriating.

Your scenario is anecdotal and not that of most consumers. My computer with Windows Media Center was dominated my living room over 7 years ago, but it didn't mean Microsoft was dominating the living room in general.

yep. everyones usage is different and what i do may not be what most people do. i have a media streamer, and long ago ripped my music, movies and home videos. so it's all on a hard disc. But that's not most people. I my music library is decades in the making but most people are fine listening to the radio or pandora. Me i want my underground hip-hop, local rap, etc Stuff you'll never find on itunes. I got an xbox 360 but it doesn't do the job because it can't play some formats. in fact apple tv has the same issue. And for most people the 360 is still one thing, a gaming console with a netflix app. And the gaming part is massive.

Your not a gamer that's why your Apple TV gets more use.. I have nothing against that just saying.. Netflix works very good on a ps3 and I play way more games then you so of course my Xbox 360 and ps3 get more tv time.. To each is own but just saying your ideas are not the end all :)

I will own the Xbox one and ps4 and I have no reason to buy a Apple TV yet..

Same with my Apple TV, I turn on my 360 now to check for updates, I'm an update freak. Main reason I use the Apple TV more is the speed, it's much faster than the 360. I didn't even renew the gold membership this year.

Somehow, when Steve Jobs told Walter Isaacson that he 'finally cracked it' I don't think he was talking about the Xbox One either in form or function. Xbox One, while appearing to be a nice device, is not changing the game the sort of way that the iPod, iTunes Store, iPhone or iPad have. It simply leverages what's in existence - putting the content in one place and giving the user access to what it has aggregated. It is not transformative in how the content is presented, accessed or used like I would envision Steve Jobs wanting to do.

So, no. Xbox One is a nice device that will change the game for Microsoft temporarily. If Steve Jobs truly 'cracked it' then the Xbox One will be relegated to Palm Treo status on the day the iPhone was announced.

"xbox one relegated to palm treo by Steve jobs/Apple"

LOL, get out of steve jobs ass you idiot!!

Interestingly I was just thinking about PalmOS this very moment, but not in a flattering way for Apple. If you recall, Palm did everything right with their PalmPilot, redefined an entire market segment, and then did nothing revolutionary for the rest of their existence. The Palm was almost frozen in time.
Apple has come out with iPhone and iPad, and did everything right as well. But for a while now they are at a standstill, slightly better camera, slightly better screen, slightly better CPU, that's it. This XBox One is the first sign of other companies innovating while Apple is frozen. Google Glass is an other, besides all its creepiness/goofiness. Atari, Palm, and Tivo, is another one joining you?

MS isn't leveraging anything except xbox live accounts. The old stuff won't work. The used game market? They're giving it the finger. Windows 8 or wp8? Nope...none of that stuff is compatible either. Windows store? Nope..

MS has this streak going lately. Of screwing things up. Windows? Check. Office? Getting there. Xbox? Let's toss in 3 OS's...let's leverage more of that Metro UI throughout which btw isn't really catching on or has it ever. This is the same metro UI of course that people can't hide fast enough on their PC's.

Is this the Apple tv everyone wants? Yep, we're all waiting on Apple to come to its senses and make a device with 3 different OS's on it, yet another app store not compatible with iOS or Mac, and use IR blasters to somehow control these crap cable boxes. This is it..

When the Xbox 360 was released, with it's some-what backwards compatibility, it was awesome... for the first few months, then with all the latest games coming out for it, and those old Xbox games were just a thing of the past (some of which got new releases, others Xbox Arcade).

Microsoft saw that trend, and so did Sony with the Playstation, so they're both gearing their next-gen consoles higher than they could before if they wanted to keep compatibility with the previous consoles.

Sure, right now, everyone's in uproar about the issue (those same people who probably don't even play Xbox games anymore, poor Halo 1), but give it a few months after both consoles are released, and that's the point in time that Sony and Microsoft are looking at. Now what about you, Nintendo?

I probably won't buy. It's a non starter for me as I've heard that it's not backward compatible with games but then again I bet Sony do the same thing.
If that's the case then I'll PC game and not buy either.

This whole "not backward compatible" is getting tiring and a stupid argument. So let me get this straight you would buy a new system that will provide better graphics and experience to play last gen games?

What a ridiculous thing to say. When I upgrade to a new Mac, on the whole I don't expect to throw away all of my old software.
Same applies here, I may have built up a few hundred pounds of games that I ain't gonna throw in the bin.

throw in the bin? Really? You can keep your old Xbox, you know...I usually keep the previous gen until the catalog of the current gen is up to speed or I find myself not returning to the old console.

I agree, this is different from how we treat computers (which I usually replace outright). But the living room is a different beast. I still have a DVD/SACD player that gets cranked up every couple months. My old Xbox is in the attic though =)

Too bad, both the Sony Playstation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One are on PC architectures, meaning better game play, better performance, and it doesn't take as much coding to get an Xbox / Playstation game to play nicely with PC gamers.

Welcome to the Future, it's now 2014. Unless you're Nintendo.

You make a great point even though they are like the PC they are still consoles just another way to slowly phase out pc gaming in a way it makes me sad and happy at the same time!!

Re: "AirPlay is fine for spectating games, but absolutely useless if you want to play game on your iOS device but use the TV as your only display."

I think the Nintendo Wii U GamePad is Exhibit A in the case against dual-display gaming. As in viewing a "supplement" on the GamePad while playing the "main" game on the TV screen. The market has spoken: Wii U sales are only a fraction of original Wii sales, and Nintendo may be forced to exit the hardware business.

And using your iPhone as a game controller, with no gameplay display on its screen, is a terrible idea. It anchors your mobile device to your game console. Even if there is a "mobile" version of the game that you can play on your iPhone's screen, it would be different than the display you see on the TV. Unless, of course, you simply use AirPlay to mirror the iPhone's display on your TV. Back to square one.

Re: "And if you think it's as easy as just making iOS apps available for the Apple TV, you're not thinking through the actual interface - multitouch doesn't work."

This is probably the biggest reason why Apple hasn't launched an Apple TV App Store yet (and may never). There are too many radical differences between the handheld mobile multitouch display experience and big-screen stationary remotely controlled display experience. The differences are even bigger than between handheld mobile multitouch and desktop mouse + keyboard computing.

Sure, there are connected TVs on the market that run apps. But how satisfying is that TV app experience? Do they deliver any actual end-user value? Or are those apps just showroom sizzle to impress shoppers? The latter, I think.

"There are too many radical differences between the handheld mobile multitouch display experience and big-screen stationary remotely controlled display experience. "

I also think most of these companies making streaming devices often make crappy remotes too that make the interface hard to use. I have a streamer remote that gets the job done but not well. like if you want to move down a page you have to navigate through every file, click click click click. it should scroll down automatically like swiping down in ios or something.

my biggest issue with appletv is it simply doesn't support enough of the file types i either have or commonly come across like mkv, xvid, divx. Forgive me if it does play some of this as i don't own one so i don't know if the formats have been added. But i have video i need to play, old rips are xvids. I have a bunch of mkvs. But i want a player that can at least play a huge range of video, subtitle features, it has to not have limitations on file size like the xbox 360 does where it won't play an mp4 over 4 Gs. I think Apple could easily make the best box out there. It just doesn't. But i have a wdtv and it plays nearly everything. I don't have to worry about re-encoding things. Until Apple TV does all it does i'll probably be on some sort of streamer that plays more formats. For me because of my large library that's much more important than say netflix, which i don't subcribe to.

I don't think most people care much about it's physical appearance and also i think may people think it actually looks nice and minimilstic and it won't look gaudy in a tv case. My white funny shaped xbox 360 stands out like a sore thumb with my streamlined black rectangular components.

I have an AppleTV (3rd gen). And it gets a ton more use than my XBox 360, even though my 360 currently does pretty much everything that I wish my AppleTV did (native apps outside of just Netflix and iTunes).

What pushes me over the edge for dropping them both in favor of the One? TV. I still have what would be called "normal" TV. If there is a way to bring that in to the same device that I watch Netflix on, listen to Pandora, and play games on? Plus DVD and Bluray?

Why would I NOT buy that and throw out the AppleTV?

This is not "Apple TV we've been waiting for?" Apple really needs to make an actually needs to make a TV to make people like my parents to buy an HD TV, it's Apple's marketing that makes my parents want iPhone and iPads and it is going to be the Apple Marketing that gets everyone to buy an new TV. Think about it if you had a really good TV without the content but it was really good that you wanted it anyway then Apple would be able to negotiate in their favor and show that people have this TV that replaces the other ones that they had and so you need to follow our terms. Also no DVR or box is part of the future I know this as fact (games and movies don't cont in the future) .

I have always been a huge gamer. I had the Atari 2600, NES, SNES, Sega Master System, Genesis, Sega CD.

When the PS1 and N64 came out, I bought both of them, returned the PS1, and the N64 just collected dust. I then skipped out on the PS2, GameCube, XBox, and Dreamcast and went 100% PC with things like the Quake series, SimCity 2000/3000, and others. It was this generation of consoles that grabbed me back in full force, and I own the Wii, 360 and PS3.

This new generation, however, is full of enough FUD that I plan to skip at least the first 2 years and stick with PC gaming.

XBox One isn't even close to the AppleTV we've all been waiting for. The fact you have to have a subscription to be able to use ANY of its functions is a complete deal-killer for me. On the AppleTV if you want to watch Netflix you just need to have a subscription to Netflix. On the XBox One you have to have a Netflix subscription AND an XBox Live Gold subscription. And maybe another one, I'm not totally sure. Same for Hulu Plus. Same for all other services. It's completely ridiculous to make users double-pay for using your box.

I agree. And really it comes down to the UI. Like the one guy was saying on the podcast today, tv is very passive. The xbox one looks like a bag of hurt UI wise.

Even if streaming is all the future and you cut cable out, just give me a screen of icons. I don't want to talk to my tv. I don't want to do jumping jacks in front of my tv to get around the UI.

You have to make it simple stupid if you want the mainstream to buy into it. And this is where Apple can step in because people already know iOS. We'll see apps like CW and HBOgo on the apple tv in the summer. If they can land apps like Watch ABC and convince CBS, NBC, and FOX to play along, then that's all they need IMO. The others will fall into place like ESPN.

Gaming? Apple is dominating there already with iOS.

"Gaming? Apple is dominating there already with iOS."

Hehe, you're kidding, right? There is no gaming on iOS, there is a lot of casual gaming, but that's another animal altogether.

When we mention Gaming we mean at least 4GB of texture, sound and complex gameplay, not 90's graphics driven by awkward and unwieldy touch controls.