When Microsoft introduced Kinect three years ago, it brought pervasive computing into many homes for the very first time. Today, with the announcement of Xbox One, it's poised to pull millions of people into the era of the truly connected home. And we're all going to look damn good getting there.
Xbox One is less of a consol and more of a listening, tracking and sensing system aimed at connecting your TV, your computer, your gaming console and your phone. “The living room has changed radically over the past eight years,” we were told during the announcement. “It’s time for tech to step behind the curtain, and for you and your entertainment to take centre stage.” What does the hardware of a device that's meant to melt into the background look like?
Say goodbye to the familiar fins, curves and green-and-dark-grey palette of the Xboxes of yore.
Xbox One is a sleek, simple machine whose main aesthetic detail is a half-matte black, half-glossy black veneer. The entire form factor has been flattened and simplified, and the only real curvature is a thin dark chrome strip along the left edge serves as a disk drive.
The main reference here is high-end electronics from a few decades ago, like this Bang & Olufsen transceiver from the 1970s. It's an about-face for Xbox as a brand: up until now, its console design was about bringing the future into the home, with curving edges, beveled buttons, and a logo that looked like the spawn of an alien fish. All of that has been thrown to the wind with Xbox one, which borrows from a classic era of industrial design — the 1970s — instead looking like it came out of the 2070s.
Kinect, too, has received a design update. Rather than the curved gloss of the old bar, the new Kinect (which will come standard with every console!) is a simple black monolith, defined by the elegant sensor casings that enable the improved UX to read everything from your voice to your heartbeat. There’s a definite Hal 5000 glint to the body, playing on the really pretty remarkable intelligence of the improved UX. Importantly, it tracks the location of the controller, too — the two devices now will work in unison. “The new Kinect sensor is the binding power between the Xbox, SmartGlass, and controller,” we learned. “Speak, and your troops follow your command. Raise your controller, and they follow.”
The controller itself has been rethought too, at least by the standards of the detail-driven realm of controller design. The ABXY buttons has a glitzy new key, which took three separate injection moulding techniques to produce, according to a rep. The body has changed quite a bit too: the removal of the underside battery pack means you can curl your hands around the two rails, and the overall dimensions are smaller too. Interestingly, the design team printed hundreds of different prototypes in the studio, using an in-house 3D printer.
All in all, it's a awesome bit of industrial design from the team at Xbox. They could have caved to ego and created something even flashier and gaudier than the last console. Instead, they chose the path of restraint — and as a result, created a system that doesn't quite melt into the background of a room but doesn't scream for attention either.