With the launch of the Xbox One X today, Microsoft reclaims the title of highest performance gaming console on the market, taking it from Sony’s PlayStation brand. The PS4 Pro, released earlier in the year, was a modest upgrade in hardware and performance capability, but the Xbox One X, previously known as Project Scorpio, offers a more significant performance increase. This will allow for 4K support, better image quality in current and upcoming games, as well as a faster and smoother console experience.
This is the most recent example of Microsoft’s renewed drive to position itself as a leader in technology, both hardware and software. The company has altered course in recent years to emphasize the hardware and technology that drives it rather than depending on others to do it for them. New leadership on the Xbox and hardware divisions is seeing the path to continued relevance, and it goes through hardware innovation.
The Xbox One initially started off with a tepid beginning, with leadership at the time looking to focus the product around the living room experience. That didn’t have the impact the company had expected and executives like Phil Spencer took over to reinvent the console mid-generation. It leaned back into gaming as the priority, updating Xbox software and pushing for better developer relations along the way. Though it lost the first part of the battle to Sony’s PlayStation 4, Xbox One had recovered.
Upgrading the hardware in the Xbox One X to the extent it did is not a trivial task. Microsoft has improved the power of the console by a factor of 4x, giving game developers a more PC-like experience. This puts the Microsoft console back in the driver seat for having the top hardware available for console gamers and it hopes that fact will pull back AAA developers to optimize and focus on Xbox.
The chip-level hardware design of the new Xbox One X is another indicator of Microsoft’s impact on tech innovation. It was the first console to see value in using AMD-based hardware for a more familiar environment for game developers. Microsoft now pushes forward with the most advanced hardware design by a wide margin. The Xbox One X offers as much compute horsepower as a mid-range gaming PC but at a cost that remains attractive to early adopters. By using semi-custom hardware from AMD again, the Xbox One X retains backwards compatibility with the entire Xbox One lineup.
The power of the Xbox One X will give Microsoft the ability to address new technology areas, taking an immediate leadership position. 4K and HDR (high dynamic range) gaming will be possible for the first time with a gaming console. Though Sony attempted to offer both with the PS4 Pro, the lower performance capability of the system doesn’t allow for the flexibility of the Xbox One X.
This PC-like capability has a secondary advantage that Microsoft has intelligently capitalized on: Windows 10. Many games now ship with cross-play support between the Xbox One and Windows 10, with many offering the game on both platforms for the same price. This helps drive users to upgrade to Windows 10 on their PCs while also pushing them into the Xbox One ecosystem if they already have a gaming computer.
While not impossible, this is an option that Sony would have difficulty duplicating with PlayStation.
When Microsoft released the first line of Surface devices, it put the industry on notice that it was no longer going to sit idle and allow Dell, HP, and other OEMs to solely decide the future of its systems ecosystem. Competition from Apple was and is strong, and design and innovation was clearly a driving force behind the Cupertino-based company’s rise with the MacBook.
Surface has evolved into one of the key trend-setters for the notebook and mobile hardware market. Surface Pro made the tablet and detachable keyboard market usable and accepted. The Surface Book line made battery life a priority while also including the option for discrete NVIDIA graphics, a nod to the consumer demand for higher graphical capability in mobile devices. Surface Studio blends design aesthetic with hardware integration to create the leading all-in-one PC device for Windows 10.
It continues to push these lines forward, though some faster than others, including the upcoming use of cellular LTE connectivity on an upcoming Surface Pro model, allowing consumers to stay connected with their notebook in the same way they do with their smartphones.
Microsoft created a mixed reality initiative with the Hololens but has brought that to the consumer level with OEMs to build headsets that are affordable and integrate at the Windows level. Microsoft sees this used for gaming, productivity, design, engineering, and more. System vendors like Acer, Samsung, Dell, and Lenovo are already selling hardware. Meanwhile, Apple seems entirely uninterested in developing or pushing virtual reality or augmented reality to its desktop users.