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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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