Phil Spencer has hinted instead of a successor to the Xbox One, Microsoft may instead be planning on releasing a hardware upgrade for their system.
Update: With the recent interview with the Guardian, it would appear Phil Spencer is referring to incremental hardware upgrade of the Xbox One’s SKU’s, in other words a fresh console and not a breakout box or secondary processing device. ““In other [consumer technology] ecosystems you get more continuous innovation in hardware that you rarely see in consoles because consoles lock the hardware and software platforms together at the beginning and they ride the generation out for seven years or so,” said Spencer. “We’re allowing ourselves to decouple our software platform from the hardware platform on which it runs.” Link
Original story: It’s an intriguing prospect to be sure: “We see on other platforms whether it be mobile or PC that you get a continuous innovation that you rarely see on console,” he said. “Consoles lock the hardware and the software platforms together at the beginning of the generation. Then you ride the generation out for seven or so years, while other ecosystems are getting better, faster, stronger. And then you wait for the next big step function.”
Unfortunately, he wasn’t willing to divulge any hints as to how this could be achieved with the Xbox One. “[we don’t want to] announce our road map for hardware, but what I wanted to say on stage for people when they see this vision of ours and question our commitment to console I want to make sure that people see that what we are doing enables us to be more committed to what consoles are about than we’ve ever been and innovate more consistently than we ever have. That’s the key for me.”
“I look at the ecosystem that a console sits in and I think that it should have the capability of more iteration on hardware capability,” Spencer continued. “Sony is doing this with VR and adding VR capabilities mid-cycle to the PlayStation 4 and they are doing that by adding another box. I don’t mean that as a negative. But it’s not changing what the core console is about.”
Console upgrades aren’t a new concept – and were a regular fixture even in the fifth generation of consoles. Both the Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn allowed users to plop in additional RAM to increase the systems capabilities. Indeed, some games simply weren’t able to run on vanilla hardware, or had massively cut back visuals or features. Perfect Dark on the N64 or Street Fighter vs X-men on the Saturn are a few examples of this.
Just how this upgrade for the Xbox One would function remains an intriguing mystery. It is possible a user would have to return their Xbox One to Microsoft for an upgrade – but this doesn’t sound very user friendly, or appealing. There are numerous ports on the Xbox One devices could use (such as USB ports) but how this would function in practice is difficult to say.
Another possibility is simply a “new” iteration of the Xbox One, so Microsoft re-release the hardware with a cost reduction for older users. This new X1 would feature more / faster RAM, a better GPU or CPU and naturally run the older Xbox One games perfectly, but be capable of running ‘newer’ titles at higher resolutions or frame rates… or potentially some titles would be exclusive for this ‘new’ Xbox One.
The danger with allowing Xbox One hardware upgrades (either through a ‘plugin’ or an hardware increment) is simple – if you provide user’s a box which increases say GPU performance, you might alienate the standard user base, or create issues with developers who’re developing for one spec – the main benefit a console has.
But with the current generation of consoles performance already considerably behind that of a high spec PC, the gap will only widen over the next few years and because Microsoft’s commitement to release games on both Windows 10 PC and the Xbox One, it will be an interesting position the company finds itself in.
It’s possible this isn’t much more than wishful thinking for Phil Spencer and Microsoft, but it does raise some interesting possibilities of shorter term fixed hardware and developers targeting their software at an iteration rather than a ‘platform’. Think of Ubisoft having a sticker on their game box which reads “compatible with Xbox One Version B or above”.
Stay tuned for a more in-depth analysis when there’s a little more information!