Microsoft Poised To ‘Unify’ Xbox One And Windows 10 — Does This Spell The End Of Stagnant Console Cycles?

As the veil on Microsoft’s Xbox Spring Showcase lift today, one of the larger developments to come out of San Francisco last week was the idea that Microsoft could be unifying the Xbox One and PC platforms, making them what Phil Spencer calls “backwards and forwards compatible.” Speaking with press, YouTubers, and Streamers last week, Xbox head Phil Spencer talked about unifying Windows 10 devices under one heading, giving rise to upgrade-able consoles in the future.

Via Polygon, Spencer talked about innovation in the mobile and PC space, and how it ties to the current idea behind Xbox One and other consoles.

“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.

“When you look at the console space, I believe we will see more hardware innovation in the console space than we’ve ever seen. You’ll actually see us come out with new hardware capability during a generation allowing the same games to run backward and forward compatible because we have a Universal Windows Application running on top of the Universal Windows Platform that allows us to focus more and more on hardware innovation without invalidating the games that run on that platform”

Xbox One Console Upgradeable?
[Image via Xbox]
Much has been made regarding the Universal Windows Application, and it’s not surprising that Microsoft would look to do this with its Xbox platform as well. Essentially, a Universal Windows App is an application package that can run across the breadth of Windows 10 devices, whether they be mobile, PC, tablet, phone, and so on. How this will come into play with Xbox One and Windows 10 games isn’t entirely certain as of now, but the convenience of only buying an app once and having it available on which ever platform you are using is alluring to some.

The idea that Spencer hints at with Xbox One, however, is the most intriguing. He talks about the possibility for Xbox One upgrades, meaning that the current state of the Xbox One console may not be the final state it’ll find itself in. Paul Tassi of Forbes poses some interesting questions when he inquires how the Xbox One upgrades would take place — whether Microsoft will do the upgrade, GameStop, third party upgrades, etc. Microsoft will undoubtedly sell a more powerful Xbox One if the console truly is to be upgrade-able, which is a tight rope to walk, considering the mindset of most going into a console purchase to begin with. However, with the Xbox One consistently underperforming compared to its direct competitor, Sony’s PlayStation 4, in terms of framerates, resolution, game asset quality, and more, it makes a modicum of sense that Xbox would want to do this. There is also precedent here, as Xbox One has already launched a console with a solid-state hybrid drive, and the Xbox 360 saw multiple hardware iterations in its lifetime.

The allure of Xbox One and other consoles, however, is the nature of the closed ecosystem: people don’t want to be bothered with upgrading. It’s the reason why many console players shun the PC, regardless of its objectively superior metrics. It’s a tight rope because on one hand a more powerful console means better looking and running games for consumers, while on the other hand it can anger the section of your consumer-base who was relying on their Xbox One purchase to remain relevant and standard for its entire life-cycle. However, it needs to be said that an upgrading console, even if its still underpowered compared to the highest-end PC, is good for the industry. It’s no longer a stagnant platform, and developers can push their games more without limiting them based on stagnant console hardware. Although, the question does remain: how do developers make certain that the game’s vision doesn’t suffer, while keeping the games playable for those who don’t upgrade their Xbox One?

Many questions remain surrounding this revelation, and its likely Microsoft will be keeping this news close to the chest until E3 in June at the earliest. Regardless, Microsoft is deigning to shake up the Xbox One and Windows platforms, and the console industry in general as well. As to whether it works out is another story.

Have some thoughts on Xbox One and Windows 10 being unified, or a comment about potential console upgrades? Sound off below.

[Images via Xbox]