Want a sneak peek at the next Xbox? Look at the Xbox 360.

Microsoft keeps adding reasons to turn on the Xbox 360. Do these new features actually lay the groundwork for the next Xbox?

Scott Wallace
Microsoft designed the Xbox 360 as a Trojan horse – a way for the king of personal computers to take over your living room.

In 2005, Microsoft released the Xbox 360 to the delight of hard-core gamers. But Microsoft had bigger plans. It designed the video-game console as a Trojan horse – a way for the king of personal computers to take over your living room.

Each year, Microsoft has added new reasons to turn on your Xbox, including movie rentals, live sports, all-you-can-eat access to more than 30 million songs, voice commands, TV shows, fitness programs, motion controls, online searches, the ability to use your phone as a remote control – and, of course, video games.

"There are other guys who have multipurpose devices, but no one has done it successfully in the living room, except for Microsoft," says Michael Pachter, a research analyst with Wedbush Securities in Los Angeles.

Even seven years in, Americans bought 270,000 new Xbox 360s in October, more than the Nintendo Wii and Sony PlayStation 3 combined, according to the NPD Group, which tracks consumer spending.

When it comes to features, Sony and Nintendo have been playing catch-up, says Mr. Pachter. Microsoft had the first console to partner with Netflix, streaming movies and television shows straight to TVs.

Rather than copy the Wii's motion-sensitive wand, Microsoft introduced the Kinect, which doesn't need a controller at all. It identifies body movement and verbal commands. You can start videos with your voice and fast-forward with a hand swipe.

Last year, Microsoft coupled Kinect with its search engine, Bing. This opened up voice search. You can now say out loud, "Xbox, Bing 'Harry Potter,' " for a listing of movies to watch, songs to play, and games to download.

This year brought SmartGlass, software that turns a smart phone or tablet into a remote control for the Xbox.

Pachter thinks these four features – video on demand, hand and voice commands, built-in search, and SmartGlass – have done more than keep the Xbox 360 ahead. They've laid the groundwork for the next Xbox.

He imagines a next-generation machine that could replace standard cable boxes. A television signal would go directly into the Xbox and beam out to any TV in the house.

"If you are a tech-savvy household, you will be able to route any signal you want and watch as many signals as you have TVs with one Xbox," he says. "The cable companies don't make money on hardware. It is not in their best interest to have six cable boxes in your house."

We'll find out soon if Pachter is correct. Many expect Microsoft and Sony to unveil their next video-game consoles this summer.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.