Robbie Bach, leader of the original Xbox team, is promoting a new book about his time at Microsoft and his plan for civic renewal. In a wide-ranging interview for GeekWire’s podcast, Bach makes some interesting observations about past and present Microsoft initiatives, as well as trends in the console market.
Specifically, Bach provides his take on Windows Phone, Microsoft Kin and the “Xboy” handheld concept. He also recounts rolling out the first Xbox in 2001, including his personal trauma from the poorly-executed launch that nearly killed the project. He even mentions Apple TV. Here are some highlights.
Windows Phone and Kin
Noting the decision to not use Windows in the original Xbox, Bach opines that Microsoft's mobile efforts suffered from being related to Windows.
In the mobile space, trying to figure out how to do Windows on a phone actually wasn’t that helpful. In the Xbox space, we managed to avoid it pretty much completely. We started really from scratch, and I think that helped us.
Bach doesn’t mention an arguably critical factor in Microsoft's mobile fortunes: how late the company was in launching a modern touch operating system. Windows Phone 7 arrived near the end of 2010, years after Google had acquired and developed Android, cementing their wide OEM distribution.
The interview didn’t address how the initial Xbox strategy of avoiding Windows has come full circle 14 years later, with Windows 10 soon to make its way to Xbox One.
When asked about the dead-on-arrival Microsoft Kin, a project he presided over, Bach concedes failure but asserts that the social phone was well conceived and planned.
The Kin was just an abject failure in many respects… [but] it may have been the best business plan I saw in my 22 years at Microsoft... If we had shipped it in 2009 when we were supposed to, I think it would have done reasonably well.
Bach attributes Kin’s eventual failure to the phone being “a year late” due to the Windows team not delivering key technical pieces, and to the rapid rise of smartphones with social apps, a development that rendered the Kin’s social design behind the curve well before the phone launched in May 2010.
Xboy, Xbox and Xbox One
Although he regrets not creating an “Xphone,” Bach referred to the “Xboy” handheld concept in the interview. Bach says he chose not to make a portable gaming device because his team had too many other priorities to focus on, not because of some strategic brilliance. He explains it this way:
Smartphones took that market away, so we focused on the thing that survived and did well, and continued to grow. Some skill in navigating strategy, and making priority choices, and some luck in how the market went.
Addressing Xbox One’s launch stumbles, Bach gently criticized decisions overseen by Don Mattrick, his successor.
I think some of that was predictable and preventable. And if I’m just honest I’d say that… These console competitions last 5, 6, 7, 8 years, and I think it shows in the marketplace today. I think Xbox One has put almost all of that behind itself. They’ve got a great holiday lineup. They’re gaining share and volume.
Bach spoke briefly about the future of the console market, asserting there will be at least one more generation of consoles. He's unclear on exactly what the future consoles might do, while referring to Apple's efforts as a potential contender but not specifically addressing the upcoming Apple TV's potential gaming features.
Regarding the original Xbox launch, The Daily Beast yesterday published an excerpt from Bach's book. The piece describes in detail how unprepared the Xbox team was for the E3 launch presentation in May 2001, and how industry confidence in the nascent console was put at risk. In the GeekWire interview, Bach discusses his feelings of failure, eventually telling his boss he could no longer lead his team. He tendered his resignation to Rick Belluzzo before Xbox even launched. But Belluzzo rejected Bach's resignation, he turned the corner and the rest is history.
Robbie Bach’s new book is Xbox Revisited: A Game Plan for Corporate and Civic Renewal.