This seems to be the year that the big video game console manufacturers decide to release new consoles. Microsoft went first yesterday, Sony is expected to follow this Fall. Unlike other technologies – smart phones, tablets, laptops to name a few – video game consoles have appeared very slow with regards to new generation releases. It has been 8 years since the XBox 360 and 7 years since the PS3…wow…to put that in perspective, 2007 is when the first generation iPhone was released. So 2013 will give us the opportunity to have two major generation upgrades in the gaming console world.
The Xbox One
The first console out of the gate – the Xbox One. From all reports it brings some new bells and whistles – voice activation, enhanced Kinect, centralized control of music/video/game etc. Of course it has some “negatives” such as no backward compatibility with video games…ugh. All expected evolutions for the console. What this is really about is the continued battle for control of the home entertainment hub. Microsoft said as much:
Indeed, Microsoft is totally explicit about Kinect (and Kinect-related IP) being the central part of its strategy in the console battle as well as in the wider war for the living room — far beyond other aspects of the hardware.
Microsoft, as does a host of other technology companies, sees the entertainment center as the next frontier a place where all their software, content and devices will converge. As much as we love our smartphones and tablets, the television still provides the powerhouse of displays. We still gather around the television and leverage it as the communal entertainment hub some even use it as their personal dance trainer. However no one has really taken the “lead” when it comes to this space. Cable companies are trying to leverage their control of the content to be their play. Microsoft and Sony both look to their gaming consoles as the conduit to the entertainment hub. Google has made forays into the actual hardware – Google TVs. Of course Google is also embedded with search and YouTube in many new smart TVs. While Apple TV has been around for a while but has yet to really get into the game – they do have a firm lock on the streaming content via iTunes. What about Amazon? They also have a massive library of content as well as a device – the Kindle – that can force their way into the conversation. Question for Amazon, do they make an investment in hardware to put themselves physically in the living room?
All these moves will be good for the consumer – allow for a host of choices. Of course the problem might arise if all these vendors go with a walled garden strategy. Where the choice we make in hardware is one we might have to live with for a long time or buy multiple platforms!
Yesterday, Sony, remember them…finally came out to discuss their new gaming console – PS4. Of course they never showed the actual console, but did show off the controller, see below. 7 years after the last version of the venerable gaming platform, Sony looks to re-establish itself as a power in home entertainment. About time. But will it be enough? Something tells me that Sony has a great chance to try and lay claim to the next greater technological frontier – the television. Unfortunately, from the reports I have been reading it sounds as if Sony is going to fall short. Potentially miss a huge opportunity.
A bit better than an Atari controller
The television remains a bit stuck in the dark ages. Yes more are web enabled. However, you still interact with an old fashion remote control, you cannot send content to devices (unless you plug in add on devices), you do not have good search for content but it remains one of the pillars of our entertainment universe. One device that makes that device a bit more modern are the gaming consoles, cable boxes and other accoutrements. However these remain a jumble of different functions and devices. Game consoles, DVRs, cable boxes, smart blu-ray players…and the list goes on. But the king, at least the device that should be the king, was the game console. It had built in interactions – menus, joystick and qwerty keyboards – could get you to the web, allowed you to play games (entertain yourself and your friends), some have video capabilities (Xbox kinect) or mimic your movements (Playstation move). Sony had established themselves as the power player when the rolled out their PS family. Microsoft came in hard with the XBox and eventually we saw Nintendo reemerge with the Wii.
Since those heady days for those players, the technology and entertainment landscape has changed…drastically. The tablets, smartphones, iTunes, apps have all changed the entertainment space. Consumers are drawn to mobile gaming apps – Angry Bird or SongPop to name two. These tend to be cheaper and accessible on your mobile device. Of course franchises such as Madden remain powerhouses for the gaming consoles. But that cannot be their only means to ROI. Gaming consoles need to go after what make the mobile world so attractive – content that goes where you need. Sony should look to hard wire the likes of Netflix or partnering with iTunes or Amazon for a content partner – Sony provides the hardware and platform, these other players provide the content. Maybe even partner with Google to get Google + hardwired into the social aspect of the console and allow YouTube to be a channel on the console.
I know that all these services can be accessed at your television, but they all remain difficult to configure and leverage in their current forms. Sony had a chance to take a big step towards re-establishing themselves as the king of the television. Granted, they might have tried to do these behind the scene only to be shunned by the aforementioned players. We might never know. But as it is constituted, the PS4 should do okay. Gamers will want to get their hands on the device, but they will continue to be relegated to a back seat when it comes to the home technology landscape.
Sony has finally retired the venerable Walkman. What a long and memorable trip it has been for what has become an iconic image of the 1980s and a device that has revolutionized music, technology and our lives. Today we get our music via our laptops, smartphones, tables, sunglasses and various versions of MP3 players – you can get an MP3 player for less than $30 at CVS now! With music moving wholeheartedly into the digital age, is it any surprise that getting our music on tapes is no longer a viable business model?
With this retirement ceremony, we should reflect on all that the Walkman has done. For those of you old enough, do you remember how we listened to our music prior to the Walkman? I sort of remember…first it was not portable, unless you consider a boom box as portable. It certainly was not personal, the aforementioned boom box was not intended to keep the music personal and private! Or we could listen in our cars or at home on our refrigerator sized stereo. The main form factors were either the vinyl record or the tape…some tried the 8 tracks.
When Sony came out with the Walkman they were introducing a new product category, and while we could not imagine not having portable music, at the time represented a leap of faith that the device would sell. Did it ever. The notion of portable entertainment was revolutionized by the Walkman. Sony taught us that we could have our music and radio with us at all times, as long as we had fresh batteries we could always put our headphones on and “tune” out the world and enjoy our entertainment. What can be delivered and transported in one’s device has only expanded – who would have thought 10 years ago you could have an app that would monitor your personal training regiment?
Today we all expect to be able to carry our entertainment in a portable device, we have Sony and the Walkman to thank for starting this revolution. Happy retirement!