In short number of years, Microsoft has managed to really turn things around for the Xbox platform. After a difficult Xbox One launch, the company's decision to listen to its fans and communicate its plans has been a good one. Now, almost five years after the original Xbox One, Xbox One S consoles are the most reasonably priced they've ever been and selling better than ever as a result. And with the 4K power play that is the Xbox One X now on shelves, we can't help but wonder what the future looks like for Xbox.
The recent trend towards iteration suggests that Microsoft's next console may not be as large a leap forward as we usually expect from a new console generation. Microsoft’s own Head of Xbox Games Marketing said in an interview with Engadget in 2016 that for Microsoft “the future is without console generations,“ and that ”We think of this as a family of devices.“
Yes, rather than seeing a new console that’s leaps and bounds better than the last every 5 or 6 years, we may have to get used to regular incremental improvements to hardware which will remain capable of supporting older games to prevent a consumer schism.
This doesn't mean there aren't new console designs in the works, though. Windows Central’s Jez Corden recently revealed on his Twitter profile that the next Xbox console is already being designed and that work is well underway, to the point where it even has a codename (although he neglected to share what this is).
That said, work hasn’t gone so far that we can expect to see the console any sooner than 2019. According to Corden, 2 years would be too soon to expect the new console but it would likely still be backwards compatible with the rest of the Xbox family. Interestingly, this is around the time that analysts are predicting Sony will launch the PlayStation 5. We think it's unlikely that Microsoft would let Sony launch a brand new console without answering with its own within a year, perhaps even trying to beat its competitor to the finish line.
This makes sense since Microsoft’s first foray into true 4K gaming has only just hit store shelves.
That won’t, however, stop us from thinking ahead to the next Xbox and what it’ll bring.
What will it be called?
The hardest part of this future-gazing is actually trying to guess what the console might be called, given the naming progression that’s come before. Microsoft isn't going to abandon the Xbox brand anytime soon, surely, but the subtitle is a little harder to pin down.
If it’s a brand new console generation it’d make sense to call it Xbox Two, but Xbox 720 made a retrospectively perplexing amount of sense at one point so let’s not be too confident in that.
If we're going to really get our tinfoil hats on, looking at the naming progression we can see the latest console is the Xbox One X. If X were to be read as ten, the next console would be the Xbox One II or Xbox II (2). Okay, we're just kidding. Regardless,Microsoft is a hard company to predict when it comes to console naming.
What will it be capable of?
What’s slightly easier is predicting the features that are likely to appear in this new Xbox.
The Xbox One X is a huge step forward for Microsoft, bringing native 4K gaming and near-PC power into a console. It's currently the most powerful console on the market so where can Microsoft go from here?
We can only imagine. So that’s exactly what we’re going to do; join us won’t you?
A powerful console focused on games
We like to think Microsoft has learned a lot of lessons from the difficult launch of the Xbox One. The Xbox One didn’t have the advantage of being the only HD console option on the market like the Xbox 360 did, and additionally its launch ended up being marred by a Kinect bundle that pushed its price way higher than it should have been.
As a result, the PlayStation 4 took (and has maintained) a commanding lead in terms of market share.
Microsoft has definitely addressed a lot of these issues with the Xbox One X. It's a piece of hardware that's almost entirely focused on games, and it's not bundled with any superfluous hardware. In fact, Microsoft's gone so far as to drop the Kinect port entirely. We imagine this focus will continue into the future.
Budget and premium options
With the One S and the One X Microsoft is embracing both an iterative and a tiered model. The company is not only launching incrementally better pieces of hardware over time, but it's also supporting previous versions of the console and allowing them to exist as budget options.
As a case in point, the One X is still expensive (much more so than the PS4 Pro), but the Xbox One S is still being presented as a worthy and attractively priced 4K upscaling alternative that will still be capable of playing all the same games, not just from this generation but the previous generation too.
However, after each console has had its chance at being the budget model, they've each fallen away into obscurity. We've already seen this with the original Xbox One, and it's likely that the Xbox Two will eventually have the same effect on the Xbox One S.
We imagine Microsoft may want a certain degree of market saturation for the Xbox One X (or at the very least 4K TVs) before launching the Xbox Two but when the console does launch it’s less likely to feel like the same leap that moving from Xbox 360 to Xbox One did.
Trial and error, rather than a jump into the unknown
In some senses we feel that it’s reasonable to assume we’ll be slowly drip-fed a lot of the technology that will end up in the Xbox Two.
This has the big advantage of allowing Microsoft to establish what works and what doesn't work over time rather than having to take a big leap of faith with a brand new piece of hardware.
VR and AR support is likely
We've learned that certain things are unimportant for consoles this generation, like motion-sensing and touch-screen, but the new technologies like VR and AR are proving to be very exciting fields for developers.
Microsoft has already confirmed that the Xbox One X will support Windows 10 virtual and mixed reality headsets but it’s not being forceful with pushing them. They were notably absent from the console’s presentation at E3 2017 and we still have plenty of questions.
If PlayStation VR continues to grow in strength we expect Microsoft will be more clear about the Xbox One X’s stance on these headsets and much more active about developing the technology for its successor. Xbox Two could very well be the HoloLens console. If the technology flops, Microsoft can easily phase it out from its next generation plans like the Kinect but much more neatly and less to the detriment of initial sales.
Meanwhile, if the Xbox One X’s 4K visuals fail to make the console appeal as much as Microsoft hopes they will, we don’t doubt they’ll still be a feature of the Xbox Two, but they may be less of a focus in the overall marketing.
The latest and greatest audio visual technology
Recently Microsoft has been really keen on integrating the latest audio visual technologies into its consoles – Dolby Atmos support, 4K and HDR are all here. This is something we can see continuing into the next generation.
It’s clear Microsoft wants gaming on Xbox to be a full sensory experience and it’s possible that the next console will include some kind of projection system similar to Project Ariana that Razer showcased at CES 2017 whereby gaming environments were extended beyond the screen and into the player’s room. With something like this, Xbox Two has the potential to be an immersive gaming machine and we already know technology of a similar ilk was being considered in the Illumiroom project from back in 2013.
An increasingly cross-platform ecosystem
In the way that Nintendo is bridging the gap between its handheld and home console divisions with the Switch, we can see Microsoft moving its PC and console users closer as we move onto the Xbox Two.
Cross-platform play, accounts and digital purchases are being encouraged in the Windows 10 and Xbox stores and this is something we can see Microsoft continuing to push into the new generation, particularly if it’s going to continue to manufacture consoles that boast near-PC specs.
Learnings from the PC
It’s likely that the new Xbox will likely have more of a Steam-esque interface that puts games first and doesn't confuse the customer. A system with a more indie- and mod-friendly focus is also important (we’re already seeing this with Indie@Xbox), and if the console consumer base doesn't jibe with mid-lifecycle console upgrades, perhaps a more PC piecemeal approach with more swappable parts will be in order.
When will we see it?
So we can agree we’re almost certainly going to get another console but will we have to wait eight years like we did between the previous generation and this one? It might end up that way, actually, but thanks to iteration it certainly won’t feel like it.
Though it won’t come as soon as two years from now, we think it’d be reasonable to expect the Xbox Two in three years, perhaps releasing in 2021. This would be eight years after the release of the original Xbox One and a good time, perhaps, to move onto the new generation. It'd also be around the time, or one year after, analysts are expecting Sony to release the PlayStation 5.
With the steady and considered steps Microsoft is making and the way the company seems to be listening to feedback from its users more than ever, we anticipate that the Xbox Two could be its most considered launch yet. In the meantime, a lot hinges on the Xbox One X.
- We've also done some speculating about the future of the PlayStation, check out everything we want to see from the PlayStation 5.