Microsoft Xbox 360is a toy for teen slackers who want to waste their youth immersed in war-game bloodbath fantasies, right?
Well, er, right. But it could be oh, so much more.
The reality is that Xbox is a very powerful PC, and one recently enhanced with the user interface of the future: gestures.
Gesture-based computing is going to take over the world from WIMP computing, which is the acronym for windows, icons, menus and pointing devices.
Gestures control current devices like the Microsoft Surface table, as well as Apple iPhones, iPods, iPadsand the dozens of iPad imitators announced at CES.
And, of course, gestures control Microsoft Kinect for Xbox 360.
Gestures now rule everything around the edges of computing, but not mainstream computing — the desktop PC is still all WIMP, all the time for most of us.
What Apple Did
Don’t look now, but Apple is slowly taking over the industry with a breathtaking, visionary strategy nobody foresaw. Here’s what Apple is doing:
1. Invent a super elegant gesture-based touch interface, and bake it into a powerful cell phone operating system (later called iOS).
2. Ship a phone with iOS.
3. Ship a media player with iOS
4. Launch a super easy App store for iOS.
5. Ship a tablet with iOS.
This is what Apple has already done. In the future, they will almost certainly execute the rest of their industry take-over:
6. Ship a bigger tablet with iOS
7. Ship a desktop touch screen PC with a desktop version of iOS
This breathtaking strategy involves cannibalizing Apple’s own OS X systems with the new gesture-based platforms. It involves using a tiny device, the iPhone, as a lever by which to move the world in Apple’s direction.
I believe Apple will own more than 50% of PC market share in a few years if Microsoft doesn’t do something equally bold.
What Microsoft Should Do
Microsoft can and should execute a similar strategy, but with Xbox instead of iPhone. Here’s what Microsoft has already done:
1. Ship Xbox
2. Launch Xbox Live
3. Ship Kinect, which enables voice and gesture control of Xbox
So far, so good. Microsoft has a true killer device on its hands with Kinect. It’s training millions of consumers to use and love gesture computing in the same way that the Apple iPhone did. Now it’s time for Microsoft to complete this strategy by doing the following:
4. Launch an enterprise version of Xbox Live, which is installed and managed inside the corporate firewall.
5. Create a gesture- and voice-controlled version of all Officeapplications for Kinect for Xbox 360.
6. Invite developers to create enterprise Kinect for Xbox 360 apps.
Xbox for Enterprises would be great for everybody — users, enterprises, partners and especially for Microsoft itself.
Great for Users
Executives and other business users would love to have giant screens in their offices and boardrooms. In offices, these would be used in addition to laptops on desks. In conference rooms, they would replace the over-priced and limited-use video conferencing systems.
By using voice and gestures, users would be able to see big-screen business dashboards all day updating with real-time data. With a quick hand-gesture, they could flip over to work on a presentation, do a big-screen video conference or even use voice commands to dictate an e-mail while pacing around the office.
Kinect-style interfaces also get users off their chairs and on their feet, which will help them deal with bad health caused by sitting all day.
Great for Enterprises
Big screens boost productivity. But we’ve already pushed the limits of how much screen we can handle when those screens are two feet away. A Kinect-style interface enables us to use ginormous screens, but more than 10 feet away.
Wall Street and other financial services companies – which already integrate walls of data, TV and personal feeds into single screens – would love these devices.
Companies could toss those special-purpose video-conferencing systems in the recycling bin, and embrace all-purpose systems that do real work. For example, imagine Xbox for Enterprise versions of online meeting applications. Imagine using voice-recognition to automatically create a transcript of meetings, which you can then e-mail to all participants. Imagine a video-conferencing system that zoomed in on each speaker automatically.
Data centers could be able to monitor and manage more information on larger screens, and control management applications with gestures and voice.
Great for Partners
The industry would love to sell second systems (two full PCs per user instead of one), and larger-screen systems. Xbox for Enterprises could give a needed boost to the enterprise hardware market and to VARs.
Enterprise and business applications and services are hitting a kind of wall caused by information overload. A new Kinect-based interface could help break through that wall with innovative new ways to present complex data sets on a big screen.
Great for Microsoft
How is Microsoft going to move Office forward? How many more features can you cram into Word? How can you make people not hate PowerPoint presentations?
Xbox for Enterprise could enable Microsoft to come out with a voice- and gesture-controlled version of all these apps, and make users and enterprises happy to shell out a premium to use these new, enhanced versions.
And remember, Xbox is a Microsoft hardware product. So, like Apple, Microsoft could make enormous money from not just application and OS software, but also third-party app “royalties” and hardware as well.
Apple is still a minority player, but has all the initiative and momentum. Apple achieved this with a bold strategy to leverage a popular consumer platform into a total-industry take-over.
Well, Microsoft has a popular consumer platform, too.
If Microsoft wants to beat back the Apple onslaught, it’s going to have to think outside the box – and inside the Xbox.