There have been a lot of rumors swirling around Microsoft and its plans for the next generation of console gaming so far this year. The latest comes from the print magazine Xbox World in a report that doesn’t attribute its details to any sources, anonymous or otherwise.
The next Microsoft console is described as a “matte-black media hub with… augmented reality, direction sound and a four-player finger-tracking Kinect.” It will also supposedly use a tablet-like controller that consists of “an HD screen surrounded by the traditional Xbox 360 buttons and sticks.” This contraption will supposedly make its first appearance at E3 in June.
I continue to have serious doubts about any and all rumors relating to the next generation of console, though it certainly behooves Microsoft to enter into the portable realm. The company has long resisted following Nintendo’s and Sony’s lead on releasing some kind of handheld gaming device, but it has now reached a point where Microsoft risks being left behind if it doesn’t follow suit.
Just look at what happened with Nintendo’s Wii. It hit the market without any HD output, reduced graphics processing capabilities compared to its competitors and an unwieldy, user-unfriendly interface for online gaming. Had it not been for the wider world’s embrace of the console’s unique motion control features, Nintendo would have had a disaster on its hands. It’s no surprise at all that the Wii U is the first console announced for the next generation; Nintendo has some catching up to do.
Sony’s PlayStation Vita arrives now at a perfect time. It’s easy to look at the less-than-stellar launch so far — something I think is more due to the marketing than the actual technology — and see nothing but doom ahead. Really though, the Vita has the potential to keep the PS3 competitive with the new bells and whistles that the Wii U provides. When you get right down to it, Sony’s new handheld is very similar to the Wii U’s tablet controller: you’ve got most of the functions that you would need on a standard controller PLUS an HD touchscreen. The potential is there for the PS3/Vita combo to play the same games that a Wii U will be able to.
So Nintendo is committed now to the Wii U, whether or not the planned fall 2012 release becomes a reality. Sony is similarly committed to the Vita, and likely won’t be announcing a new console until next year, at the earliest. All of this leaves Microsoft in a potentially advantageous position, if it plays its cards right.
Xbox Live has the community in place, and the features necessary to keep that community tight and loyal. Microsoft’s robust set of exclusives are also complemented by some strong third-party relationships. The increasingly obvious absence in the Xbox catalog is a portable solution. windowsPhone 7 doesn’t cut it. Microsoft is going to need a dedicated portable gaming solution to compete on all fronts in the next generation.
And now we’re back to the Xbox World report. I’ll continue to doubt all of these rumors that pop up until they’re confirmed as fact, but I also don’t think it’s a stretch at this point to assume that Microsoft has some kind of touchscreen-enabled control interface that could potentially double as a portable device in the works. Especially since the upcoming Windows 8 OS is meant to integrate Microsoft products across all platforms. We’re living in an increasingly tablet-oriented world, and it’s a safe bet that MS realizes it. That gaping hole in its product catalog will almost certainly be filled soon, and I’d frankly be shocked if that tech wasn’t a fully integrated member of the Xbox family.