Tomorrow, Microsoft will reveal their highly-anticipated next generation console, the successor to the Xbox 360. Intrigued speculators from around the web have quite safely predicted the upcoming console will be stuffed to its presumably green gills with fat hardware specifications like a relatively large hard drive, a high-end graphics processor, and a combination DVD/Blu-ray drive. On the software side of predictions are alleging Roku-esque ambitions for the next Xbox, such as pay-per-view sporting events and more versatile video streaming. In addition, many are suspecting Microsoft's acquisition of Skype two years ago as an effort to weave the software into the online multi-player communication that Xbox has been doing quite well since the beginning.
With all this consideration of the pomp that will be on display tomorrow, much deeper connotations lie in the circumstance. Microsoft has been doing better and better these days in the market. Earlier in this millennium, the former software end-all be-all was suffering from its lack of innovation, not to mention what Steve Jobs once called its tendency to make "third-rate products" like the Zune MP3 player and the Windows Vista operating system. However, in the past few years, the company has seen an increase in margins come from what used to be their secondary revenue-streams: their music business, the online only games, other aftermarket purchases, and, would you believe it, their tablets and phones. Last of course, there is the Xbox and the Xbox 360 themselves, which have gone from limping into the console war to leading the U.S. market in sales for 28 consecutive months.
So, the $300-600 dollar plastic rectangle on display tomorrow will not be just a gaming device; it is, in effect, the next Windows computer. This is their biggest pony in any race. With that being said, no prediction is safer than this: it will be rife with all the media interactivity and purchasing capabilities that Bill Gates and Co. could possibly stuff into it.
However, as they say, your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness. The new Xbox might bear an unduly large burden of Microsoft's monetary hopes, and could crumble under the weight. Microsoft has been known to push even their most important products out before testing thoroughly, and if the new Xbox has more than its share of gripers from the hard-core gaming world (Xbox's core market) this supposedly well-diversified product may end up in a more volatile place than MSFT had hoped. However, Xbox’s relatively late first look compared to the PS4 and the Wii Mu is an indication that folks behind the curtain are being given enough time to carefully tie all the loose ends. Maybe now they can figure out a currency system that doesn't leave extra, useless "Microsoft Points" over after every in-game purchase.