Ballmer: More Xbox Form Factors in the Future?

On Thursday, Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer spoke at the University of Washington supposedly on the topic of cloud computing. But the conversation also wandered into other topics, one that might include the future of the Xbox.

Like fellow reporter Chloe Albanesius, I listened to the speech, but Microsoft also provided a handy transcript a day later, on Friday.

In a question-and-answer session following the speech, Ballmer was asked about the collaboration the company takes with regard to hardware partners, and made the point that some hardware vendors don’t offer any diversity, and others do. In the case of the television, Ballmer argued, Microsoft uses both approaches, providing fixed hardware (the Xbox) as well as variety (software). Here’s the interesting quote:

“In the case of the TV we’ve got both strategies. We actually have a TV implementation in some senses built into Windows,” Ballmer said. “It works really well for small screen TVs that you might call a PC, but for that big screen device here’s a piece of hardware that we build, there’s no diversity. You get exactly the Xboxes that we build for you. We may have more form factors in the future that are designed for various price points and options, but we think it’s going to [be] important.” (Emphasis mine).

To me, that certainly sounds like Microsoft may be considering new implementations of its Xbox technology, although it’s difficult to say whether that might additional hardware revisions, or simply closer integration of Xbox services with other devices, like the Zune, or with the partnership with the UK’s Sky TV that Microsoft also showed off this week.

Remember, too, that Microsoft at one time intended to place Xbox functionality within a set-top box. Kotaku reported at CES that that effort is still on life support.  So, it seems safe to say that the theme here is “hedging one’s bets”: treating the Xbox both as dedicated hardware, a service, and as a platform.

Ballmer also called the audience’s attention to the “Project Natal” technology due in time for the holidays. “And when you see this Natal camera that comes with the Xbox this Christmas, I think what you’ll wind up saying is I’m glad they’re doing some hardware, too, because it permits a different kind of innovation, and we want to have both of those muscles working on behalf of you the user and the developer,” he said. (Source)


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