Review: Xbox One has mountains of untapped potential

If Microsoft executes on the software front, the Xbox One could be the first step toward true ubiquitous computing—in your home, at least.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on an Xbox One and a handful of games early on in the lead-up to the official launch. If you’ve followed all of the news that broke since Microsoft first began talking about the Xbox One publicly last May, you probably knew what to expect: ¬better in-game graphics, enhanced controllers, tight integration with the newly revamped Kinect sensor, and a more Windows 8/Windows Phone-like UI (full review here). All of that stuff was practically a given considering the next-gen nature of the console.

However, the Xbox One’s improvements over the Xbox 360 weren’t the only part that struck me as interesting. We need to consider the things Microsoft could enable with the Xbox One moving forward.

Right out of the box, the Xbox One already offers a compelling gaming experience and a myriad of entertainment-related features. Quite frankly though, in its current state, the Xbox One doesn’t feel completely “done.” A lot of stuff seemed to be missing, like easy access to content shared on a PC, and voice control wasn’t perfect, among a few other things. That’s all stuff you can read about in the myriad of hands-on and review articles available at this point, though. What I think will be more interesting moving forward are the things that will be possible with the Xbox One, which Microsoft hasn’t spoken about yet.

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Since the Xbox One is built around x86-compatible hardware (similar to the components inside your PC right now) and is already running the Windows 8 kernel, in addition to the Xbox OS, it is already very PC-like. And since the Xbox One will most likely be connected to a network shared by PCs, it would be really great if Microsoft incorporated some sort of game-streaming capabilities, that not only allow the Xbox One to stream games from a PC to a big-screen TV, but to also allow Xbox One game streams from the console back to a PC. As much as I’d like to squeeze in a little Forza or Ryse on the Xbox One while on break, it’s not always a good idea to trek to the home theater or living room to fire it up. If I could launch and play an Xbox One game from my PC, though, it would be far more convenient. Heck, Microsoft could even enabled this sort of streaming on Windows Phones or Surface tablets.

There’s also great potential for the new Kinect sensor. Anytime I used the Xbox One’s voice controls, I couldn’t help but think about Star Trek and the ubiquitous computer that was only a simple voice command away, regardless of where you were on the ship. Of course, the Kinect sensor won’t work if you’re not within earshot of its microphone or in view of its camera, but it could be used for a whole host of things. You can already walk into a room and say “Xbox On” to power up the console. You could also say, “Xbox go to Internet Explorer,” or “Xbox go to Forza 5” to launch an app or game. But imagine being able to walk into room and say something like, “Xbox, turn on the news, show me traffic on i95, and make a call to the office.” There’s no reason - other than proper software support - that the Xbox One couldn’t do these things.

The bottom line is there’s a ton of untapped potential with the Xbox One. Microsoft already owns the desktop. With some smart moves and interesting software and features, it could own the rest of the home too.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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