Recently, rumors have started to swirl regarding a new Xbox. No, I'm not talking about the standard generational leap that consoles go through. Instead, the rumors suggest a smaller, underpowered machine that competes directly with the Apple TV. But is that really a good idea?
At first glance, the idea of releasing an Apple TV-like device seems like a pretty good idea for Microsoft. After all, the Xbox One has virtually all of the same features that you'd want out of a small living room media machine. Keep the Blu-ray player, the media apps, and the app store, and you've got a nice little medial machine. So why wouldn't that be a good idea?
Well, let's start by looking at one of the latest sources of the rumor. It comes from Brad Sams over at Petri. He had this to say from his source: “I have heard from internal sources that the company is considering plans for a lightweight Xbox One that may only be for Windows store games and would compete with the Apple TV.”
Obviously, it's just a rumor, and without being able to check with his unnamed sources, we can't know how valid that information is. But for the time being, let's suspend disbelief and assume that it's correct.
So Microsoft is bringing a lightweight Xbox to the market that isn't capable of playing most Xbox titles. Again, from a purely business standpoint, it looks good on paper. They would need to get some new, custom hardware, but the software side would be pretty simple to implement. And they've already got a brand name that sells. And something with the Xbox name that sells for less than half the price of an Xbox One seems like it would sell like hotcakes. So far, it looks pretty good.
Where it falls apart is the name. If you put out a product that is incompatible with both Xbox 360 and Xbox One games, you're going to end up with a lot of upset consumers. Why? Well, let's take a look at the Wii U. Here was a console that suffered greatly because of (among other reasons) a poor name. A good portion of consumers weren't sure if this was some sort of add-on to the wildly-popular Wii, or something else. And for that reason, many people simply ignored it.
I think that some sort of Xbox Mini would suffer the exact opposite problem. People would see it, and think that it was just an inexpensive version of the Xbox One, that was slimmed down. After all, we saw the Xbox 360 Slim, so why wouldn't they do that with the Xbox One? And logically, no one would think that Microsoft would release a console called Xbox that can't play the Xbox games that are just down the aisle from it in the store.
So now Microsoft will have a lot of consumers purchasing their new Mini console, thinking it's for gaming, when that's really only a secondary function of the device. And since we all know how generous stores are when you try to return gaming consoles, it's unlikely that those same people would be able to get a refund, should they open the box before discovering their error.
Now I will grant that such a device does actually appeal to me on a certain level. If this device could stream games from my Xbox One or PC in a similar fashion to the Xbox One or Steam Link's capabilities, I'd probably jump on it. But then again, I wouldn't be their target audience. I've already got an Xbox in my living room. Instead, their target audience would be much the same as the Apple TV's.
If Microsoft does go this route, they would have to do some massive marketing to not only capture the correct audience, but to educate those who might otherwise mistake this for a true gaming console. If they fail to market the device correctly, they'll still sell a lot of them, but they would damage the Xbox name in the process.