xboxOne of the most common criticisms of the new Xbox One is the console hardware itself, which has been widely compared to a VCR or a Betamax. As I noted in my commentary last week, I was a little underwhelmed by the aesthetics of the hardware when I saw the console in person for the first time. The later versions of the Xbox 360 look a lot better to me.

Yes, I would call the Xbox One console hardware bland in appearance.

Microsoft wouldn’t use that word, but it turns out that the company purposefully designed the console not to be noticed when in use. A new article on the official Xbox Wire news site explains the design philosophy for the console. Here’s the key excerpt.

Color is another core tenant of the design language and is expressed in Xbox One’s use of liquid black, the blackest black creatable, as a color palette for the brand. This selection was motivated by the same guidance followed by high-definition TV manufactures: dark colors accentuate content and bring the entertainment experience to the forefront.

The console and Kinect sensor are liquid black so they melt into the background when being used, allowing the content on your TV to dominate the living room. The user interface is overlaid on the same shade of deep black so that the content tiles on the dashboard are more vivid and easier to navigate and interact with.

I guess this is how design and style work, but it’s amazing how much these things can change. I remember sitting with then-Xbox exec Peter Moore in a conference room as he showed me the curved white Xbox 360 for the first time, explaining how the company had learned lessons from the reception for the bulky black original Xbox.

Part of the company’s reasoning at the time was that the Xbox 360 design would be more amenable to Japanese consumers, whom the Xbox has historically struggled to win over from Sony and Nintendo. This time, the competition is much broader, as the Xbox One expands Microsoft’s console to become a much more comprehensive entertainment machine.

Is Microsoft right or wrong with its hardware design choices this time around? One way or another, the Xbox One launch will be fascinating to track.

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  • Guest

    Liquid Black is a good choice, but there’s no excuse for the bland shape. This design is reminiscent of Betamax devices from the 80’s. They’ll probably call it ‘clean’ just like Metro, but sometimes clean is just plain boring. This happens when engineers dictate design.

  • Guest

    Only Ballmer’s MS could assemble a team of multi-discipline experts, provide them with state of the art prototyping tools, let them play around for months or years producing “dozens and dozens” of iterations, and end up with a black box so plain and boring that it doesn’t even rival several sub-$50 HTPC cases you can buy at your local Fry’s. Even sadder, the MS team manages to convince themselves that their way is actually “faster and more efficient”.

    Repeat this kind of gross mismanagement across an entire company and you begin to understand how MS spends more than anyone on R&D but produces far less.

  • Jason Farris

    I don’t have a problem with the shape. It’s bland on purpose, I understand that purpose, and it’s fine. Fits nicely into standard AV dimensions, which was the intent. I’m glad it’s not a bunch of flashy lights and hokey plastic.

    If the current gen taught us anything, it’s that MS is not afraid to update the SKU throughout the product lifecycle as the market changes. Not worried.

    • panacheart

      Jeff, everytime I see one of your posts it makes me laugh. You’re my favorite Microsoft shill. All your comments are straight out of Microsoft’s talking points memos.

      • Xeno Returns

        Hilarious. A serial troll accusing someone else of being a talking point shill.

      • Jason Farris

        Seriously, who is Jeff. This is the second time you’ve called me Jeff.

        Scott, by admission, is a former MS employee whose looking for anything to complain about. Today’s example: He’s upset that someone see’s a piece of gear that’s designed to look like AV equipment as a piece of gear that looks like AV equipment. It makes him laugh. It’s so absurd I must be paid to say it.

        He also believe the President is a right wing plant in a massive conspiracy by the Republican party to intentionally lose the election.


        • Jason Farris

          “I have a theory that Obama is a Republican shill. The Republicans, aware that they couldn’t win an election after the Bush disaster, chose a “moderate” Democrat to run against far right wing Republican candidates that they knew couldn’t win the election.”

          “I’m convinced now that Obama was a Republican plant. He’s part of their master plan.”

          Keep em coming Scott.

        • Guest

          Hm, whether Jason or “Jeff”, he does have a point that all your comments are straight out of Microsoft’s talking points memos. Including the personal discreditation of those who point it out. So predictable really.

          • Jason Farris

            I invite you to get to know me better.

          • Jason Farris

            “I predict the Xbox will lead the pack in terms of “next gen” features, especially with respect to convergence / ecosystem, while the PS4 will launch with a feature set that doesn’t go too far beyond what the current Xbox360 offers, but will exceed the new Xbox in raw specifications. By how much (or little) I’m curious to see tomorrow.

            Having rejoined the ranks of x86 (and being again comparable apples to apples), that puts Sony in a good position, as Microsoft is likely to overthink and overestimate their audience’s desire for a thought-leader console. (ala Win8).” —- posted pre reveal. Does that sound like a talking point? It’s was a (as it turns out spot-on) criticism.

            It’s not impossible for someone to have a good experience with a Microsoft product, or a good impression of one and be OK with talking about it.

            I really don’t understand where all the vitriol comes from.

          • Pot meet kettle

            Personal discreditation? You mean like calling all his comments MS talking points because you don’t happen to like anyone saying anything complimentary about MS? So predictable really.

          • panacheart

            Wow. Great responses. This is like a troll festival flame war. Predictable attacks Jason. keep em coming.

            I must have struck a nerve, because Jason went out of his way to find some obscure quote I made, quote it out of context, and then went on to email me and try to connect on Linkedin. That’s a lot of effort to respond to a thread in a news forum.

          • Jason Farris

            I just thought if I connected with you on Linked In you might stop calling me Jeff. :)

          • Guest

            You forgot to call me an idiot. That’s what MS shills are supposed to do at this stage in the discussion according to their manual. I have nothing against Microsoft, I just didn’t drink their KoolAid to endorse everything they do. Same goes for Apple, Google, or Amazon really.

  • craigfisher

    Had to check their site to verify that they did in fact say “core tenant” rather than “core tenet”. Yep!

  • Nathan O

    What can I say, I like it and was a little surprised that it has received such a negative response. It’s almost like the Xbox has been growing up with me for the last 10 years and not just in its appearance.

  • Guest

    Liquid black is ideal if you are like me and intend to paint flames going down the sides….

  • Christopher Budd

    I had heard that the XBox 360 design was done by an outside agency but this one was done in house: any accuracy to that?

    You see here though a very common situation at Microsoft and in tech generally. The regular turnover and need to innovate leads over time to a regular jumping back and forth between opposite approaches each of which is always “brilliant” at the time.

    Here it’s boxy functional aesthetic versus flashy aesthetic. Next version will likely be flashy.

    To be really geeky another example is local storage of email versus network (cloud storage). The industry keeps flipping back and forth and every time we flip paradigms it’s hailed as brilliant and the only way to do it.

  • D

    I much prefer my R2D2 Xbox 360. Make me another one of those…

    • Jason Farris


  • IHateAdverts

    I’ve seen better playdough designs than Xbox One. Who the hell designed this?… Were they playing a game of drunken dominoes or something???… This console is pathetic.

    I won’t be purchasing an Xbox One anytime soon until the console is redesigned… way too bland and nerdy for me.

    Xbox Original=Excellent, Cool

    Xbox 360=Outstanding, Superb

    Xbox One=Goodbye…

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