Microsoft’s New Xbox Girds for a Smartphone Battle


By Ian Sherr

Microsoft Corp. will unveil its new Xbox on Tuesday. What’s underneath the hood of the latest videogame console represents a multiyear odyssey of trying to figure out how to keep the machine “cool” in the age of smartphones and tablets.

Since the last Xbox debuted in 2005, Microsoft has produced multiple prototypes for a new console and experimented with different technologies for it, said people familiar with the matter. The company has looked at streaming games from far-away servers to the latest Xbox; sending recorded videos of game exploits on the Web from the console; and including various television technologies, these people said.

In addition, Microsoft has worked to expand the ecosystem of devices and functions around the Xbox, including specialized glasses and a more advanced version of its Kinect motion sensor, said people familiar with the plans.

It is unclear how many of the prototype technologies will be included in the final Xbox. But the efforts, described by more than a dozen current and former Microsoft employees and partners, show how the company is trying to get the formulation of features right to thrust the console back into the spotlight even as consumers increasingly turn to smartphones, tablets and the Web for their entertainment needs.

A Microsoft spokesman declined to comment about technologies in the new Xbox. In a statement, Aaron Greenberg, chief of staff for Microsoft’s games business, said consoles are still a thriving business, with consumers last year spending $27 billion world-wide on console gaming, or 42% of total game spending. “Gaming is healthy,” he said.


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(Published May 19, 2013, in The Wall Street Journal.)

Future for Microsoft Set-Top Box Is Uncertain


By Ian Sherr

As videogame fans await the unveiling of Microsoft Corp.’s next Xbox console, the future of another piece of hardware under development is less clear.

Microsoft has been creating designs for a simple set-top device for streaming video and other entertainment options, people familiar with the matter said.

But it is unclear whether the company will introduce the device. The product’s design has gone through several iterations, including recent prototypes that worked with the company’s Kinect motion-control technology, the people said. The Kinect, which was introduced in 2010, allows customers to interact with a device by speaking or with gestures.

A Microsoft spokesman declined to comment.

A set-top box from Microsoft could compete with similar products offered by companies such as Apple Inc. and Roku Inc.

Microsoft intends to create common experiences among multiple products running its software, people familiar with the matter said, similar to how Apple has forged connections between its iPhone, iPad, Mac computer and Apple TV set-top box.


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(Published May 9, 2013, @