Xbox One Could have been the Echo

Kinect launched on Xbox 360 in November 2010. To me controlling games with gestures was never interesting, but being able to control your TV with voice was amazing. Just the simple fact that you could tell it to pause and play rather than using the remote was great.

Around 2011 Xbox introduced bing as a way to search for content and start apps. Something you could look at as the precursor to Cortana.

Xbox One launched in November 2013 and was originally meant to always be on. If you ever turned on your Xbox 360 to watch Netflix only to be met with a wall of updates to the OS and to the Netflix app, something that could easily set you back 10–15 min before you could do what you actually came to do, ‘always-on’ sounded amazing. All the updates would happen when you weren’t using Xbox. However, ‘always-on’ was dropped amidst huge consumer backlash.

It wasn’t the updates that brought a lot of complaints. It was the worry about DRM and the ability to play second hand games.

Xbox One shipped without being ‘always-on’ and several Xbox executives left the company. It was recognized at the time as either a failure in strategy or a failure of messaging.

“Talking to Rev3Games, Penello admitted that the company probably attempted to introduce always-on functionality to a games console a little too early, and that with time, it will become accepted.”

At 10.23 in the interview linked to in the quote above Penello says “There is a certain point where you have to look at yourself and say look we gotta change”.

Well… maybe you should have stayed the course.

Hindsight is 20–20.

At the launch of Google Home Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO said “we are moving to an AI first world”. And as Ben Thompson of Stratechery frequently points out, you need to own the user experience to win. That is, AI is technology and you need to own the way people interact with the technology. That’s why Google is launching physical products.

It’s easy to look back here in 2016 at the decision to drop always-on and see that the long term implications have been much more dire for Microsoft than just the loss of some features on Xbox.

Had Xbox been always-on, Microsoft would have had a physical presence in the home perfectly suited to host their AI assistant Cortana.

Instead Cortana is relegated to being an app on iOS and Android, a feature on a shrinking pc market, and a feature on Xbox that only works if you’ve turned your Xbox on.