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Xbox's David Dennis on July NPDs, Kinect growth, and the 'new dash'

In July 2010, on the back of the newly redesigned Xbox 360 and shelf-clearing sales on the old model, Microsoft enjoyed one of its strongest months of non-holiday console sales ever. So while the Xbox 360 managed to best its console counterparts this July, it was also "the first month that the Xbox 360 saw a year-over-year decline since December 2009." That fact doesn't bother Microsoft product manager David Dennis, who told Joystiq, "If you actually jump back two years and look at what the typical run-rate is in the middle of the summer, it's pretty close. We're actually a little above where it was."

Considering the first Xbox console only enjoyed a four-year lifespan before the Xbox 360 arrived on the scene, Microsoft doesn't have a lot of institutional knowledge to rest on when it comes to maintaining a vibrant platform late in a console's lifecycle. But six years in, and the Xbox 360 has managed to reinvent itself thanks to Kinect. "Console transitions are expensive," Dennis said. "They're expensive for platform companies like ourselves and they're expensive for the third parties that have to learn new programming languages and learn new architectures."

After rocketing to 10 million Kinect units sold in just four months, we wanted to know if that momentum had continued. "We did not expect to maintain selling a million every ten days for the rest of its lifecycle," Dennis said. "But I think the normalized run-rate it's settled into through the normal course of the year, we've been pleased with the performance of it." We asked if casual, Kinect-focused XBLA games presented a challenge, educating mainstream consumers about downloading games online. "When you think of what kind of a perfect game you can do for Kinect that's the sort of perfect jump-in, jump-out type of party game, you think of Fruit Ninja." Dennis cited the Fruit Ninja pack-in with Gunstringer, which will ask consumers to redeem a code on Xbox Live to get their free game. "It's just a different way to open people's eyes" to the importance of Xbox Live, Dennis explained.

And in many ways, it's not just Kinect but Xbox Live that's kept the 360 young, Dennis said. "That connection to Xbox Live has really enabled us to add new features like Netflix, Hulu, and ESPN. As well as just refresh the dash so it feels like a new experience."

That new dash, which Dennis explains is being called simply "the new dash" internally instead of a separate name "because we didn't want it to stick like NXE did," is still coming this year, but details are scarce. "We have something fresher, what we think of as a more entertainment-focused dash, coming this fall," Dennis explained. "I can't give you an exact date, but I can tell you it's launching this year."

Similar to the NXE in 2008, the "new dash" "will have a beta program so there will be a gradual opening up and showing it, letting people get hands-on and play with it." Unlike 2008, this new dash has been under wraps outside of a short tease on-stage at E3. "I think one of the reasons we have not been saying as much about it is that, we sort of alluded to Live TV coming to the Xbox and that sort of core functionality is in the new dash and we don't really want to push that out with stuff we haven't announced yet."

That stuff, of course, is content. "We're still talking with lots of partners in various stages," Dennis said. "There's a lot of interest. People see what we've done with Netflix, what we've done with Sky in the UK. There are a lot of people that are very eager to work with us and others we may have to have longer, more textured conversations around rights management of content and things like that." As complicated as those discussion inevitably are, Dennis insists, "We're on track to deliver what we promised at E3 and that's to bring Live TV to Xbox this year."

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