Microsoft Needs To Hire Jonathan Ive, Because The Xbox One Is Just Plain Fugly

Where do I put the betamax?

Where do I put the betamax?

Ok, so if you’ve been paying attention to the gaming space today, you’ll know that Microsoft unveiled its new gaming console, the Xbox One. This next generation console is going to play video games, control your TV (sort of), and act as a DVD/Blue-Ray player. It’s got a Kinect motion sensor box on top, which can not be disconnected, and the console won’t play Xbox 360 discs.

This is all well and good, and represents a step forward in Microsoft’s quest to own the living room, even though a lot of us don’t have the time, space, or extra cash to spend on a huge entertainment hub these days, anyway. That’s really not what bothers me, though.

The Xbox One is just uglier than anything I could have imagined.

Heck, my ten year-old son, not a maven of design in any way, saw pictures of the new Xbox, and chuckled. “Why is it bigger than the Xbox 360?” he asked. “It looks the same, just more square.”

Which really made it all hit home for me: design matters. The case design of the Xbox One is firmly rooted in the past. Which makes a lot of sense if you consider the reveal today, full of the same games and the same brands with better graphics.

Take a look at this beast. It looks like a relic of the early 1990s, with the squared corners, tall, thick profile, and those odd cross hatching lines that must be for cooling purposes but just end up looking like a 1980s science fiction author’s idea of a cyber-deck.

I suppose I could live with such a big fat presence in the living room if it didn’t completely remind me that the days of the monolithic gaming console/entertainment hub are coming to an end. Microsoft showed its hand today–echoed in the flat, unimaginative design of the Xbox One. The looks of this monstrosity are shouting loud and clear, “We’ve run out of ideas, so we’re going to do more of the same.”

What Microsoft, and to a lesser degree, Sony and Nintendo, really needed to do for this new generation of consoles was take a quick look around them at what’s already happening. These mega-gaming corporations have missed something essential.

The gaming population is no longer congruent with the console population. We connect Apple TVs and Roku boxes to our huge HDTVs to watch on-demand shows while we multitask on our iPads. We fund innovative startups like Ouya because we want something different, dammit, and the Xbox One just isn’t it.

Same as the old boss.

Same as the old boss.

The design of an electronic entertainment hub says a lot about its purpose. Microsoft wants to dominate the space in our hypothetical living rooms, and the Xbox One says so loud and clear, with the immensity of its casing and the huge Xbox logo front and center on each component piece. Do we even have stereos like that anymore? Maybe audiophiles do, but not the rest of us.

If the console makers want to expand their business, this is not the way to do it. Hire someone like Jonathan Ive, or—better yet—someone brand new and fresh, who knows that the way a product looks will define what that product feels like to the consumer.

Design a console that reflects our current and near-future gaming and entertainment reality, full of mobility, openness, and choice. Bring a console to life that gets what Ouya is trying to do, that understands the as-yet-unfulfilled promise of Apple TV and iOS gaming, that can breathe new life into the Steam ecosystem and play well with others.

Sadly, I don’t hold any hope for this to happen within the big three gaming companies of the last few generations of console hardware. Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo are treading water, paddling for dear life to stay afloat in a rapidly changing world.

Will Microsoft sell a lot of these fugly Xbox One consoles? Probably. Will the current conservative model of gaming and design inspire the next generation of gamers and developers to reach new heights and explore innovative ideas? Probably not.

  • Adrayven

    They really missed the boat.. The first one to create an all-in-one media center, that can also Skype, IM, do DVR, On-Demand, and play the same level of games in the same compact package with an intuitive design will win.. It can’t just be a game console anymore.

    If Apple did an Apple TV that allow for Apps, as well as media.. boom, done.. Same with Google.. if they ever figured out how to make Google TV w/apps(games) stick.. That will be the point Xbox and Nintendo become irrelevant.

    They are almost there..

  • Andrew Newsome

    It’s all subject to opinion. I don’t mind the design. It looks minimal, modern, and clean. Similar to a Mac Mini. I reckon Microsoft did a good job. The controller on the other hand…

  • Andrew Newsome

    They really missed the boat.. The first one to create an all-in-one media center, that can also Skype, IM, do DVR, On-Demand, and play the same level of games in the same compact package with an intuitive design will win.. It can’t just be a game console anymore.

    If Apple did an Apple TV that allow for Apps, as well as media.. boom, done.. Same with Google.. if they ever figured out how to make Google TV w/apps(games) stick.. That will be the point Xbox and Nintendo become irrelevant.

    They are almost there..

    Except the hardware would be nowhere near the capacity of an XboxOne/WiiU/PS4

  • Steven Quan

    “Andrew Newsome Posts: It’s all subject to opinion. I don’t mind the design. It looks minimal, modern, and clean. Similar to a Mac Mini. I reckon Microsoft did a good job. The controller on the other hand…”
    The Xbox One looks nothing like the Mac Mini. The sizes of the 2 devices is totally different, the colors, and textures as well. The Xbox One has sharp corners, the Mac Mini clearly has rounded corners and yes this does make a difference in the emotion it evokes when one looks at it. I don’t know what materials the Xbox One is made of but the Mac Mini is made of brushed aluminum which is just chic!

    The only common trait the Xbox One shares with the Mac Mini is they are basically squarish/rectangular devices which is completely meaningless. By that virtue I could say my iPhone looks similar to a sky scraper because it’s a rectangle.

  • rwmcgrann

    I hope it has RF controls so you can keep it in a cabinet.

    I have had VHS players that look better than this. Where they going for that retro 80’s look? If so, why did they choose the ugliest and most generic look of the time period?

    If you are going to pull design cues from a time period, you get them from the best. The FugiFilm Finepix x100 is an awesome example, modernizing one of the most memorable and beautiful designs of the early 80’s.

    Also, why would you go for 80’s electronic nostalgia when the majority of your users barely remember a time before the iPod.

    In a time of “less is more” and ever shrinking devices why would you make something so big and obtrusive? I’m sure everyone will love this big, black cock…amamie thing sitting under their ultra thin, wall mounted TV.

  • Kendall Tawes

    Oh come on every Betamax machine I’ve seen looks better than this thing.

    The worst part is they have that 360 era button clashing against a retro case.

    Steve said it best “The only problem with Microsoft is they just have no taste.”

  • Andrew Newsome

    “Andrew Newsome Posts: It’s all subject to opinion. I don’t mind the design. It looks minimal, modern, and clean. Similar to a Mac Mini. I reckon Microsoft did a good job. The controller on the other hand…”
    The Xbox One looks nothing like the Mac Mini. The sizes of the 2 devices is totally different, the colors, and textures as well. The Xbox One has sharp corners, the Mac Mini clearly has rounded corners and yes this does make a difference in the emotion it evokes when one looks at it. I don’t know what materials the Xbox One is made of but the Mac Mini is made of brushed aluminum which is just chic!

    The only common trait the Xbox One shares with the Mac Mini is they are basically squarish/rectangular devices which is completely meaningless. By that virtue I could say my iPhone looks similar to a sky scraper because it’s a rectangle.

    This is possibly the dumbest post I have ever read.

    If you have been to school past the age of 6, you would realise that what I was saying is similar to the Mac Mini, is that it’s “minimal, modern, and clean”. I didn’t say the two devices literally look the same.

    Wow.

  • phoenixstudios

    Started a tumblr on this topic last night…

    Xbox one or not:
    http://xboxoneornot.tumblr.com/

  • RyanTV

    There isn’t really anything revolutionary about the design, that’s for sure, but I’m pretty sure that isn’t what they were going for. They were designing a device that would just disappear into an entertainment center. It isn’t about the way it looks sitting there, it is about how it looks on a 60″ LED display, and I think they did a good job with that.

    They made an extremely utilitarian looking device, but from what was shown on the demo, what comes out of its HDMI port is exceptional.

    How many of you complain about the way your cable box looks?

  • pughbrain

    To look at something like this through the lens of ‘How Apple-like is this’ will inevitably bring up some complaints. Apple’s products are perfect displays of thinness, lightness, and simplicity because they are meant to be touched and handled – or, in the case of iMacs, look fantastic in pride of place on a desk.

    Whereas something like this will likely spend its life tucked away in a dark corner of an AV unit, only to be actually handled when putting games in and out, and occasionally connecting the odd cable. Which isn’t to say it’s ok for it to be ugly – and I don’t think it is (certainly not ‘uglier than anything I could have imagined’) It’s just not small, or light, or thin.

    None of those things matter so much in a gaming console. Not compared to other things like performance, user interface, storage, quietness, etc. And Microsoft HAVE innovated in these areas. To say they have had no ideas, just because the physical console doesn’t look very striking, is to completely ignore all the other changes and improvements that have been made. The voice command system. The multi-tasking. The new achievement system. The quieter operation (which, yes, will be down to that massive fan grill). The magnetic system in the controller’s triggers that allow for more accuracy. The improved Kinect sensor.

    To say that the days of the gaming console are coming to an end, declaring the Xbox One’s looks (and nothing else) as proof, is a bit short-sighted. I love the thinness and elegance of design in Apple products, because with most of them it matters more. And if the Xbox One was intended to be carried around in my pocket, or sit on top of my desk, it would obviously need to look and feel different. But it’s a static gaming console. It’s defiantly and unquestionably not mobile, and the fact that it hasn’t sacrificed performance (or any other stats that matter) in the pursuit of thinness makes me quite happy.

    Einstein, fish, and their ability to climb a tree, etc.

  • edumalheiros

    Taste is a subjetive thing while Design is based on form, function, aesthetics, cohesion and identity. Cult of Mac’s post titles are becoming more and more controversial, specially when using Jonathan Ive’s name. On contrary of what this post suggests and as a minimalist designer himself I think Ive definitely wouldn’t recreate it, but probably would approve this piece of Hardware Design. That’s exactly the kind of problem that’s created when topics regarding Design or any other area are treated in such a shallow way by the media in general: most of the same people that are now hoping for a more “Flat” UI for iOS are the ones that are criticizing the look of Xbox One without realizing that they are somehow very connected and based essentially on the same principals and time period.

  • scatteredthings

    Ok, so if you’ve been paying attention to the tech blogging space today, you’ll know that Rob LeFebvre wrote about Microsoft’s new gaming console, the Xbox One. He made some interesting, though to my mind somewhat incorrect, points about the modern state of gaming and how the console looks.

    This is all well and good, and represents a step forward in Rob’s quest to write quality articles, even though a lot of us don’t have the time, patience, or extra attention to spend on his writing these days. That’s really not what bothers me, though.

    His name is just harder to pronounce than anything I could have imagined.

    Heck, my ten year-old son (if I had one), not a maven of pronouncing things in any way, saw his name and chuckled. “How the hell do you even pronounce LeFebvre?” he asked. “I mean, do you say the b or the v or both?”

    Which really made it all hit home for me: sensible names matter. Regardless of the quality of the writing or the caliber of the author, if you can’t say his name – even in your head, let alone trying to contort your lips to doing it – then an article is just going to fail.

    The spelling of the LeFebvre is firmly rooted in the past. Did no one in his family think ‘we could simplify this’? Take a look at that beast. It looks like a relic of the early 1890s, with the extra b, or v, and the odd ‘Le’, meaning ‘The’. Interestingly, About.com says this: A derivation of the French occupational name Fevre, which described an iron-worker or smith. From the Old French “fevre” meaning craftsman. Similar French surnames include Fabre, Faivre, Faure, and Lefèvre. This is the French equivalent of the English surname SMITH.

    So, Rob Smith… a rose by any other name (and, indeed, an XBox One by any other design) would still smell as sweet, no?

  • davidgarrickh

    When they did the reveal, I thought they had welded a toaster to a VCR. With Skype, Windows, & a Giant design, Xbox One will be the model where Microsoft kills the franchise.

  • boblevel

    This Xbox looks like it was designed by a any of the various PC makers. Big, square and ugly. I’m sure that maximizes space for ease of assembly, but totally lacking in any aesthetic quality whatsoever. Instead of being displayed proudly front and center on top on the AV center, it will be tucked away where it won’t be seen. Too bad, MS really had a chance to make a beautiful console, but they chose a design team that could only draw rectangles.

  • roblef

    The spelling of the LeFebvre is firmly rooted in the past. Did no one in his family think ‘we could simplify this’? Take a look at that beast. It looks like a relic of the early 1890s, with the extra b, or v, and the odd ‘Le’, meaning ‘The’. Interestingly, About.com says this: A derivation of the French occupational name Fevre, which described an iron-worker or smith. From the Old French “fevre” meaning craftsman. Similar French surnames include Fabre, Faivre, Faure, and Lefèvre. This is the French equivalent of the English surname SMITH.

    So, Rob Smith… a rose by any other name (and, indeed, an XBox One by any other design) would still smell as sweet, no?

    That is Brilliant! Hah. I love it. Thanks for taking the time to write it all out. What do you think about the XBox One, so far? Bold new direction? Step into the past? I’d love to hear your opinion, too.

  • roblef

    Taste is a subjetive thing while Design is based on form, function, aesthetics, cohesion and identity. Cult of Mac’s post titles are becoming more and more controversial, specially when using Jonathan Ive’s name. On contrary of what this post suggests and as a minimalist designer himself I think Ive definitely wouldn’t recreate it, but probably would approve this piece of Hardware Design. That’s exactly the kind of problem that’s created when topics regarding Design or any other area are treated in such a shallow way by the media in general: most of the same people that are now hoping for a more “Flat” UI for iOS are the ones that are criticizing the look of Xbox One without realizing that they are somehow very connected and based essentially on the same principals and time period.

    Super interesting – I only used Ive’s name because this is a Apple-centric blog and he’s a pretty well-known designer, and sure, a headline is only as good as the people it gets to come rread the whole article. I hope it isn’t TOO controversial or misleading.

    I’m really saying that the design harkens back to an earlier time in console “history,” and makes its own statement about console gaming in general. That may have, in fact, been the whole point of the design, to remind core gamers about what it is. I don’t know, really. I’m just enjoying the conversation.

    What do you think?

  • roblef

    None of those things matter so much in a gaming console. Not compared to other things like performance, user interface, storage, quietness, etc. And Microsoft HAVE innovated in these areas. To say they have had no ideas, just because the physical console doesn’t look very striking, is to completely ignore all the other changes and improvements that have been made. The voice command system. The multi-tasking. The new achievement system. The quieter operation (which, yes, will be down to that massive fan grill). The magnetic system in the controller’s triggers that allow for more accuracy. The improved Kinect sensor.

    Oh, yes, I totally agree. But I also think that a design statement is being made, intentionally or not, about how MSFT sees their console and gaming in general. I could be TOTALLY wrong, but I’m glad to participate in a conversation about it.

  • scatteredthings

    That is Brilliant! Hah. I love it. Thanks for taking the time to write it all out. What do you think about the XBox One, so far? Bold new direction? Step into the past? I’d love to hear your opinion, too.

    I confess that I’m not enough of a gamer to really speak to your points about Ouya and the future of gaming. However, from a consumer point of view (i.e. someone like me who games casually and would use the XBox One as much or more for its media possibilities), the XBox One comes across as a good product. I think it will do better than any of Microsoft’s other current offerings (Windows 8, Windows Phone, Surface – EDIT: just realised this is probably damning with faint praise!). I was impressed by what I saw and I am considering replacing my 360 with a One.

    Just to note: it’s not that I’m a huge fan of the design (though I wouldn’t call it fugly!). It’s only that I think MS has made solid progress/innovation with the internals/services that vastly outweigh their 1980s design choice. The appearance of the exterior is not going to be what wins over the consumer and makes or breaks this product in my view.

    Thanks for taking my pastiche in good spirit :)

    PS. Can Cult of Mac please carry more of these well-written/informed opinion pieces (however controversial!) and less of the ‘here is some regurgitated Reuters news’ posts.

About the author

Rob LeFebvreAnchorage, Alaska-based freelance writer and editor Rob LeFebvre is Cult of Mac's Culture Editor. He has contributed to various tech, gaming and iOS sites, including 148Apps, VentureBeat, and Paste Magazine. Feel free to find Rob on Twitter @roblef

(sorry, you need Javascript to see this e-mail address)| Read more posts by .

Posted in News, Opinions, Top stories | Tagged: , , |