An Xbox One for your small business? Mixed messages from Microsoft

Last month Microsoft launched its offering for the eighth generation of video game consoles, the Xbox One. Along with a state-of-the-art video game engine, the console includes live HDTV support, motion control, videoconferencing, cloud storage and multi-tasking capabilities – all part of what reviewer Matt Helegson of Game Informer describes as the software giant’s mission to take “control of the living room”.

During the long and presumably expensive marketing build-up to this release date, and in an attempt to set itself apart from rival Sony’s Playstation 4 coming out the same month, Microsoft was keen to promote these features that extend the console beyond simply gaming – and it set its sights on small businesses.

It was around this time that an article from Eurogamer caught my eye. The website reported a claim by Microsoft that these features would be suitable for the small business market and could envisage an Xbox One being claimed as a business expense.

Pitching the concept in a blog post on the Microsoft site, Marques Lyons, Microsoft Xbox MVP and the Director of Consumer Camp said this was “entirely justifiable” and the Xbox One was “an affordable option for small business owners, as there are many features built into the console that could help it rival even the most modest of videoconferencing and networking platforms”.

An intriguing claim indeed, and one we at XLN decided to put to the test. Here are our thoughts on the feasibility of a small business using one in the workplace:

The videoconferencing functionality of Skype was certainly impressive, if you have the display to go with it. The 1080p webcam with built in microphone means that the people you talk to should see and hear you in crystal clear quality, something that isn’t always the case with desktop Skype calls.

The system can track movement and adjust accordingly; for example if you were to stand up to use a whiteboard mid-call the camera would pan out automatically to ensure you were still in shot.

Files on your server can be accessed and shared using Microsoft’s cloud storage SkyDrive system and the ability to coordinate via motion control creates some interesting opportunities for creative company presentations.

However, it still seems a big leap at this stage that the system is perfectly suited to small businesses. Skype is its main selling point for this market, but with the desktop version working just fine for most users, the price tag of over £400 makes it a substantial investment for a company to make.

One factor the blog neglects to mention is that you’d also need to purchase a screen of suitable quality to run the videoconferencing through. Also, another consideration to keep in mind is that all the technology on the Xbox is, unsurprisingly, Microsoft centric and so there could be compatibility issues when attempting to connect and do business with others using different systems.

Ultimately I find it hard to believe that Microsoft seriously thinks that it could be a solution for small businesses looking to use videoconferencing and cloud technology. It’s also quite duplicitous of the company to be pitching small businesses considering its reported actions during the distribution and launch of the console. As reported recently, independent games stores – often small businesses competing against very large chains – in the UK were forced to disappoint customers who’d pre-ordered the console when Microsoft “culled” their supply to less than a quarter previously promised, in order to service the bigger retailers.

Running a small business is completely different to operating a large one and to declare that a system that’s not really designed for business is fine for small businesses because a) it’s cheaper and b) small businesses don’t really need the professional equipment of large ones, is a bit out of touch, if not a little patronising.

Maybe Microsoft have realised this too: interestingly enough, since I began researching this piece, the blog post that kicked it all off has been taken down!

avatar Name: Christian Nellemann
About: Christian Nellemann, CEO and founder of XLN Telecom, launched his first business straight from university. He then worked in the B2B office supplies market while on the board of Officepoint Ltd, the UK’s largest office products dealer consortium of over 400 companies. Afterwards, through the launch in 1999 of Euroffice, he became the leading e-tailer of office products to small and medium UK businesses.
Christian started XLN in 2002 as a telecoms provider after seeing the window of opportunity that telecoms deregulation had created within the small business market.After expanding the product range, XLN Business Services now supplies telecoms, card processing, energy and insurance to 130,000 small businesses nationwide.
In 2006, Christian won the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Technology and Communication and in 2010 the Ernst & Young’s 2010 National Entrepreneur of the Year Award for Business Products and Services.
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