The Xbox One is currently around three years of age, which seems young for a console – though, if this past year has taught us anything – it’s that Microsoft consoles are anything but predictable.
When the original Xbox was that age in 2004, its relevance was more than half over as its successor laid only three years ahead. When the 360 was that age in 2008 it was on top of the world with the Wii’s popularity waning just as PlayStation 3’s was rising.
So is the Xbox One destined to follow the original Xbox’s suit? Or are we looking at another 10-year-titan like the Xbox 360? And what, if anything, do the past generations of consoles tell us about the next Xbox.
It’s tough to tell (heck, even guessing the next console’s name is a crapshoot given the three we’ve had so far), but there are a few factors to consider when looking towards the future.
And when we say the future, we mean the future.
Project Scorpio is a big step forward with its ability to showcase games in 4K and work well with VR but, based on the way technology has continued to evolve and grow in the last five years, it’s not unreasonable to expect what Microsoft has planned for its platform five years from now will be able to play games the Xbox One and Project Scorpio can only dream of.
But what will the new Xbox be like? Will they call it Xbox 2? When can we expect it?
Here’s our best prognostication.
Here's when we'll see the next Xbox
If we have to put the Xbox One closer to either of its predecessors, the sad fact facing Microsoft is that it’s closer to the original incarnation than the far-more-successful Xbox 360.
That’s because the Xbox One didn’t have the time advantage that the Xbox 360 did, where the year of sole ownership of the HD console marketshare gave the console a commanding lead.
Moreover, the Xbox One’s launch was marred by the Kinect bundle that pushed the console’s price higher than the competition. The user interface and much of the console’s power were dedicated to making the system a multimedia machine, so the lower-priced game-focused PlayStation 4 started with (and has largely continued) a commanding lead.
All things considered, the Xbox One got off to a rough start.
As for Project Scorpio, it’s facing the time crunch of the original Xbox and Microsoft has to figure out a way to attractively price hardware that’s late to the party. Even though the original Xbox had many hardware advantages, it doesn’t mean a commanding market share when developers and consumers have made up their mind already.
So for Microsoft to be successful with its successor, the Xbox One might have to face the same lame duck status as the system that started its lineage.
Barring unforeseen success for Project Scorpio (and time has not yet confirmed if the likes of PS4 Pro and Scorpio will be good ideas in the marketplace), the two most important factors for the next system will be releasing early and at an attractive price point.
It took four short years for the original Xbox to get a successor, while the more successful 360 didn’t become Microsoft’s “other” console for eight years. Given the fact that both consoles are facing a stopgap and even a tech giant Microsoft can’t afford to pull a 32X and give up on an upgrade so early in its lifespan, early 2019 seems timely enough to beat out Sony’s next system while giving the Xbox One a fighting chance this time around.
Here's what the new Xbox will be capable of
As for what will be in the box, what happens around the industry in the next year will be vital in determining the direction of the Xbox One’s successor.
We’ve learned that certain things are unimportant for consoles this generation, like motion-sensing and touch-screen, but the new technology on the horizon is equally untested – cough, virtual reality, cough.
We see three potential paths for Microsoft’s next system: virtual reality, native 4K Ultra HD and/or a portable handheld device.
If PlayStation VR has a hit holiday season, expect Microsoft to go full bore on VR with the Xbox One’s successor instead of Scorpio’s still-vague stance. Moreover, if PlayStation 4 Pro sinks, then perhaps constant 4K visuals aren’t necessary for the console-consuming populace. Finally, if the Nintendo Switch changes the marketplace like the DS and Wii did, then expect Microsoft to really make their tablet and console divisions play nice together.
But what about Microsoft’s own internal hardware?
Despite being an important part of both the 360 and Xbox One’s ecosystem at times, the future hardly seems bright for the Kinect. Even though it brought some interesting technological innovations, the price point never really ingrained the add-on to most gamers. While voice-recognition may still have a place with consoles (and that Siri and set-top boxes are making the tech friendlier for new consumers), the feedback-free motion control movement seems to be all but over.
The changes that are surer bets are the ones that make the next Xbox a safer bet for gaming; particularly the always-strong PC gaming market. At the very least, the next Xbox will likely have more of a Steam-esque interface that puts games first and doesn’t confuse the customer. A system with a more indie- and mod-friendly focus is also important, and if the console consumer base doesn’t jibe with mid-lifecycle console upgrades, perhaps a more PC piecemeal approach with more swappable parts will be in order.
What does this mean for the Next Xbox?
So what can we learn from all this about the new Xbox?
Yes, the new one, because there will, inexorably, be another console. It’s certainly some ways off yet, but will it be another eight year wait? There are differing opinions on that.
“I would think so,” says Jon Hicks, former editor of Official Xbox Magazine, “but the timing may change. Microsoft was very clear at the announcement of Xbox One that it would have a ten-year lifespan, and that is likely to remain the case, but the shift from Xbox 360 and PS3 to next-gen hasn’t mirrored the shift from the previous generation.
“The initial sales of new-gen consoles, and the drop-off in software sales for the previous generation, has surprised everybody – the expectation was of a slower transition, and the consensus explanation is that there was significant pent-up demand for new consoles. So it might be that Xbox One’s replacement arrives a bit sooner than the eight years that Xbox 360 lasted, though the overall lifespan sticks at ten years. That said, even the sales data doesn’t really compare any more because Xbox 360 has an extremely robust digital sales platform, the data for which isn’t shared publicly. So it could be the drop in physical software sales is a red herring. Ask me in a couple of years, basically.”
Next Xbox: a game focus?
Ah yes, the games. Microsoft may have neglected to mention those during the Xbox One’s original reveal, but it’s changed its tune since in response to vocal feedback from gaming communities.
It’s a lesson MS isn’t likely to forget in a hurry.
“Both Xbox One and PS4 are extremely online-focused consoles and the games produced for them reflect that – Destiny being the most recent high-profile example of an online-only game,” says Hicks. “Somebody, and it might not be Microsoft, is definitely going to have an online-only console relatively soon. It’s just the way the world is going now. The only thing that I would bet on is that next time Microsoft will announce it with its still-impressive games lineup first.”
The “TV, TV, TV” approach is not one the company is likely to repeat, certainly.
Next Xbox: hardware
Yet while its rival PlayStation continues to explore new horizons for the PS4 and beyond with PlayStation VR, Playstation Now and Vita Cross-Play, Microsoft has a few other aces up its sleeve.
“Microsoft has always had an incredible R&D budget and will continue to invest in all sorts of new technology, whether for use itself or for license elsewhere,” Hicks says.
Whether we’ll see this new technology take shape during this console generation or next remains to be seen, but we do know that Illumiroom, a proof-of-concept projector system from Microsoft Research that augments the area around your TV to reflect what’s being show on your console – a visual version of surround sound, effectively – may well make a return along with the next Xbox, after Microsoft deemed it ‘too expensive’ to mass produce for the Xbox One.
Then there’s the Microsoft HoloLens to consider and Cortana, the virtual assistant that now spans the entire Microsoft product catalogue.
All that said, a new console is a case of when rather than if, and with the lessons learned from the Xbox One’s launch, its subsequent evolution and rising sales, Microsoft couldn’t be in a better position to make the next console its most considered launch yet. We just might have to wait another seven years for it.