When talking about the competitive landscape for Microsoft’s Xbox One, the conversation is nearly always about the console wars and how it stacks up against the PlayStation 4.
But yesterday’s departure of Xbox exec Marc Whitten to Sonos, the wireless audio company, shows just how narrow-minded that viewpoint is: Microsoft’s competition for the Xbox One is much, much broader.
Whitten, who was the chief product officer at Xbox, will hold the same title at Sonos, where he will be building an entertainment hub for the living room (or pretty much the same thing he was doing at Xbox minus the games).
A well-timed Sonos announcement today provides a great example of how the two roles will be similar.
In a huge overhaul, the 12-year-old high-end speaker-maker provided a sneak peak of something it calls “universal search,” a kind of Google (or should we say Bing?) for your music collection.
In a WSJ review today, Geoffrey A. Fowler says he’s always relied on iTunes to be his software hub to manage his music, beaming music around the house using Apple’s own wireless system, called AirPlay. But now with streaming music services, like Spotify and Pandora, taking center stage, he said that’s opened up an opportunity for Sonos to manage your various playlists and services using a phone. With universal search, you can play a song — from your MP3 collection or over two dozen streaming music services, like Spotify, Beats Music and Pandora — in any room where you have a Sonos speaker installed.
The technology is eerily similar to what Whitten has been preaching about at Microsoft for the past two-plus years.
For example, at E3 in 2012, he unveiled SmartGlass, which was a cellphone app that could be used in conjunction with the Xbox as a keyboard to enter URLs on Internet Explorer. It could then be used as a mouse to navigate around the TV screen by dragging a finger around on the phone. Xbox also has universal search, which allows people to search — or “Bing” — for music, TV shows and other content across multiple apps. For instance, it helps you find out which service — Netflix or Amazon Instant Video — has “Modern Family” for free.
In a tweet to Katie Boehret, the deputy reviews editor and senior reviewer at Recode.net, Whitten revealed exactly what he was interested in talking about: the home.
— Marc Whitten (@notwen) March 18, 2014
So, what does his departure mean to the Xbox?
Will Microsoft shift its strategy to appease more hardcore gamers and move away from its original goal of achieving much broader entertainment goals?
Realistically, the answer might be Microsoft doing the first in order to achieve the second.
But either way, with the departure of Whitten, Microsoft’s ranks of showmen — people who were regularly trotted out to explain new features or do press interview — dwindles further. A year ago, Don Mattrick, the former president of Microsoft’s Interactive Entertainment Business, left the company to become CEO of Zynga.
Whitten was scheduled to appear at this week’s Game Developers Conference for a “fireside chat” targeting independent developers. He has since been replaced on that panel by Microsoft Studios boss Phil Spencer. Xbox marketing boss Yusuf Mehdi and social media also frequently talks to press, as does the Xbox’s face of social media Larry Hryb.
For now, Wall Street isn’t taking the news too hard.
Microsoft investors were more focused on the potential of a version of Office is coming for Apple’s iPad. The company’s stock hit its highest level since 2000, gaining $1.50, or 3.9 percent, to $39.55 in the stock’s biggest one-day move in seven months.