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This is the Modem World: Some questions about the new Xbox One


Each week Joshua Fruhlinger contributes This is the Modem World, a column dedicated to exploring the culture of consumer technology.

Now that Microsoft has given its quick reveal of the new Xbox One game console / set-top box, we have a pretty good idea of what we should be expecting once the machine comes out. We know how it'll be controlled; we know what games we'll be playing on it; and we know how it will keep us connected and entertained.

But we don't know if people will use all these new things. Are we ready to look at our game consoles as more than a game console? Are we already there? I mean, we all use Netflix on our machines, right? May as well let them run our TV viewing too, right?


So many questions. Here are some that I can't help but ask now that the pieces of One are coming together:

Will the new focus on TV, sports and episodic entertainment become a distraction? Of all the things announced today, perhaps the most exciting was a live-action Halo series backed by blockbuster stuff-maker Steven Spielberg. Sure, a Halo series could be tons of fun, but will they charge us for it? How much? Will it be worth it? Would we rather just have another Halo game? And what if this show is terrible? Will that hurt the Halo franchise image? I mean, we're talking Spielberg here, but even he isn't infallible. Remember Terra Nova?

Will the always-on nature of the One become a nuisance or an enabler of fun and good times? Microsoft could do amazing things with this: reminders when a show is on, live sports statistics from reputable content providers, interesting supplemental information from the network. However, this could all go terribly wrong: game requests in the middle of a tense movie scene, social updates when you're just watching some Anthony Bourdain on a chill Sunday evening, force-fed Bing results when all you want is the Wiki. Could go either way, but one has to ask.

Has Microsoft left behind the women and children? Maybe this presentation was for early adopters, and -- sure -- women watch sports and play Halo. But... NFL, Halo, ESPN? Surely they're leaning into a sports-watching, grunt-killing male audience that's going to line up on day one and drop some cash on the One before grabbing a six-pack and beef jerky. Is this a heavy swing away from the Wii-like, family-friendly world they created with the Xbox 360? I mean, really, can I keep my cute little avatar on the One?

Are we still doing the voice and gestures? I don't know about you, but I am content to control my TV in silence and stillness with a remote. Instead, Microsoft is again telling us that we'll talk to our Xbox ("Xbox on!") and gesture whatever it is we want to do on screen. Surely there will be remote equivalents to all of these things, rendering my question relatively moot, but the focus on these things is curious. Perhaps more people like talking to their TVs and waving their hands than I realize, but call me curious. They've been telling us Kinect is going to change the way we use our televisions for more than two years now, and I still use my remote. But maybe that's just me? Do you Kinect owners use gestures and voice to control your movies?

Live stats and information to accompany television viewing -- especially sports as they suggested -- sounds great on the surface (heh). Sure, I want to know a pitcher's strike-out-per-inning numbers when they bring him in, or even see a hitter's hot zone. Having it show up right on the same screen I'm watching also sounds super great. Heck, maybe I even want to engage in some social banter with other fans while I watch. But I have to ask: Do I really want to do this on the same screen when I'm already doing it on my tablet, smartphone and laptop? Is this a necessity or a way to make potential content partners happy? Will we use it?

Finally, will we miss backward compatibility? This is always a hot topic when new consoles are launched and then it tends to fade away. Console makers that offer it are seen as benevolent and kind to current fans. Those that don't are seen as restrictive and ungrateful to current fans. But the question is: How many of us really use backwards compatibility? To those who own newer PS3s, do you miss not being able to play your PS2 games or are you over it already?

Joshua Fruhlinger is the former Editorial Director for Engadget and current contributor to both Engadget and the Wall Street Journal. You can find him on Twitter at @fruhlinger.

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