Microsoft Is A Little Late to the Party (As Usual)

Other than a morbid curiosity with the companies competing for market share with Apple, there's not much I care for from Microsoft's stringy line up of devices.  These days, it takes strong marketing and an intuitive design to make it in the digital marketplace and Microsoft just doesn't seem to have either.

Microsoft Windows has come a long way since the early days when it's operating system was merely a GUI shell on top of MS-DOS.  I think it's improved considerably since the horrible Start button from Windows 95 and has definitely gotten more user friendly, integrating some obvious key features like backup.  However, once again, Microsoft seems to make their operating systems too obfuscated for home users to really embrace and I think that's lead to a significant portion of it's user base to switch to alternative platforms like Mac OS X and Linux.

While the Windows world counts for over 80% of market share for desktop operating systems, adoption of Windows 7 has been slow from users migrating from Windows XP.  With the developer's release of Windows 8, I think Microsoft will have an extremely tough time trying to convince users to adapt to yet another major user interface change just because they want to solidify their operating systems between mobile and desktop.  This smells of playing catchup to what Apple has been doing.

Aside of it's operating system, arguably the most profitable business unit within Microsoft is XBOX.  With it, Microsoft is a major player in the gaming industry and chief rival of Sony for the attention of living rooms everywhere.  A recent announcement by Microsoft tells of a major update to the XBOX Live (XBL) user interface to provide television content through the online gaming service.

Starting tomorrow, December 6th, Microsoft will do a "slow roll" of service to "make sure they work right", says an article published earlier today on VentureBeat. [LINK]  Subscribers will be able to connect to U.S. movie services such as Hulu Plus, HBO Go, Netflix and Xfinity on Demand to name a few, as well as television services like MLB.TV, BBC and Verizon FiOS.  However, it's unclear whether the subscription price for XBL will stay the same or will increase, based on these new offerings.

The only thing I can't figure out is why Microsoft didn't push for this years ago.  Granted, the popularity of these services is a relatively new thing, however, I would think that if the company wanted to be seen as a true industry innovator, this would have been done a while ago.  Rather it seems that Microsoft is playing catchup with the rest of the industry in terms of becoming a content conduit in which consumers can access their content.  Apple and Google already have small set-top devices that consumers can connect to their existing HDTV's to display this content and Microsoft, just now entering the market, seems a bit gimmicky.

What puzzles me further is how the access will occur through the user interface?  A stock XBOX 360 does not come with a remote control or Kinect system, but instead, a gaming controller.  I've tried to control Netflix several times with the gaming controller and I just can't grok the concept.  I think it's cumbersome and not form versus function-fitting at all.  I believe that most consumers do not want to control their television experience with a gaming controller, which forces them to spend extra money on the remote.  I say just the remote because using a Kinect to control the on-screen menus in the XBOX's user interface is downright stupid.  While the Kinect seems to be a wonder device for in-game control, especially depending on the genre of game you're playing, it's far from the ideal way to control your television.  Have you ever tried to wake up the system with your Kinect to start controlling the interface?  You have to wave at it like a three-year old in desperate need of Ritalin before it recognizes your movements.

No, this is not the way I want to watch TV.  Give me a remote with a minimal amount of buttons - like the Apple TV or Boxee box - and let me control the entire experience through the user interface.  Don't make remotes so confusing I need to Google instructions on how to use it or give me complex body motions a'la-Twister for me to watch a movie.  I think until Microsoft solves it's usability issues with XBOX, this idea is going to garner a very small fraction of the population, despite it's mantra that their consumers want one device to consume content.  While that may be true, if that one device isn't intuitive, it's dead before it's born.

Who needs true innovation when 640K of memory should be enough for anybody?