Today Microsoft announced that beginning June 9th, they’ll start selling a version of Xbox One without Kinect. Reactions have been swift and strong. To be sure, since launch few games have even used Kinect, and the voice and gesture control systems have often been frustratingly shoddy. The thing never really worked well and today’s announcement isn’t all that surprising, especially coming from Microsoft. The company is notorious for not standing by their guns. “The start button is a thing of the past, no wait its back!” “Introducing Skydrive, no wait, it’s OneDrive!” “Windows XP is EOL, no wait, here’s a patch!” Several execs have been replaced in recent years shortly after lackluster product launches (Windows 8 is a prime example), and Xbox One is no different. It had so much promise before launch though. There was all this big talk about “reaching into the air” to launch apps. There was this promise of integrating social media, voice activated apps, menus and games, and next gen graphics that were going to blow us all away! It was gonna be the 1080p download-centric future.
But the backpedaling began last summer, when the digital rights managed downloadable games plan went out the window. Then the “integral” Kinect was changed to no longer have to be plugged in for the system to function. Then it launched most games running at 720 or 900p and Kinect immediately started to disappoint. But many of us waited patiently because, surely they’re gonna fix Kinect and deliver on those promises right? Um, maybe not. I’ve been feeling for a while that those of us who are old enough, lived through a very special time in history. And now I feel sure of that. We lived through a revolution, driven largely by just one person’s keen, unshakable vision to see a better future and execute a path to that future without hesitation or retreat. That person was Steve Jobs. Sure Steve had his stumbles ( the G4 cube), and his reversals ( he originally resisted the idea of 3rd party apps on the iPhone).
But Steve earned our respect and loyalty by consistently promising and then delivering. Even when his detractors laughed at him, he stayed the course, and again, delivered breakthrough after breakthrough. A lot of us have probably already forgotten that Apple INVENTED the multi-touch display itself. And the app issue at launch of the first iPhone was caused by people wanting to exploit this amazing tool, not a problem with the product itself falling short. Through Steve, we as a culture have been conditioned to believe tech leaders when they promise big things, when they promise the future. But what have any of the current tech leaders done to earn that trust?
Perhaps we’ve entered a new leaderless era, where many aspiring tech leaders make big promises and try to emulate the kind of vision Steve had. They may give energetic speeches and make big promises, but do any of them have the clout or track record to be believed whole cloth? If this is indeed a new playing field, Microsoft is not alone. It feels as if they have been changing course virtually every quarter lately, and probably will continue to until a true leader emerges with a long term vision and is given the space to prove themselves beyond one or two product launches. But the same may go for Facebook. We all sort of assume that Mark Zuckerberg knows what he’s doing in acquiring Oculus Rift. How do we know that? And Google seems to have made a proud business model of throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. They make everything from search engines, to self driving cars and thermostats.
And by the way, we should not assume that Apple has an amazing vision for Beats either. Microsoft did more than just neuter XBOX ONE, I think they showed us the state of the industry today.