When Microsoft launched its Xbox 360 in late 2005, it had one target audience in mind: gamers. Back then, it would have been appropriate to call the Xbox a "game console", but at the present, it's less so. Today, you can stream or purchase TV shows, movies, music and in some cases, watch a TV feed. Over the course of the 8 years that it's been available, the Xbox has sure experienced one heck of a transformation. The same could be said about the PlayStation 3.
It's logical, then, to believe that the next Xbox, to be unveiled on May 21st, will cater to everyone, not just the gamer. It seems likely that gaming will still be the major focus, but Microsoft is keen to target those who might not game at all - people who just want a set-top box that makes purchasing digital content easy.
Further, Microsoft doesn't want to limit the Xbox experience to the home. It also needs to be mobile, and have tight integration between the two. When out and about, you should have access to Xbox. While at home, you should have access to Xbox. When you eat, it should be about Xbox. Alright - I got a little carried-away.
In many ways, these changes need to be made. A lot has changed since 2005, and consumers expect a different level of capability from their gadgets. A strict game console released today would struggle, so companies like Microsoft need to make sure that their product offers a great experience regardless of what the consumer wants. This is also a market where margins are scary low, which is one of the reasons I think it's likely that Microsoft may very-well launch its long-rumored set-top box at some point in the future.
As someone who grew up with consoles, starting with the Sega Master System and Nintendo Entertainment System, I have a soft-spot for consoles. But today, things are much different. The traditional game console is dead, mobile gaming is hot and interoperability between our devices is a standard. It's quite staggering to think about how much has changed just since the original Xbox launched in 2001!