It's smaller, shinier, and back in black: Microsoft's new Xbox 360 took many by surprise at last month's E3, though some of us had speculated for months that a 'slim' model was in the works.
More than just a component and size shrink, Microsoft added 802.11n wireless (previously a $100 external USB adapter) and packed in its premier 250GB hard drive without adjusting the standard system's $300 price tag.
What were they thinking?
I spoke with Microsoft's Senior Director of Xbox Product Management, Albert Penello, to find out.
Game On: It wasn't enough to shrink the new Xbox 360, you made some pretty assertive design choices, in terms of the new style.
Albert Penello: You learn a lot, you know, the Xbox 360 was only our second console. Our competitors have been doing this for a long time. It was nice to be able to take what we learned over the years and bring that to bear on the design, the features people wanted, while fixing some of the things that we wish we'd done better like the fan noise and stuff like that.
GO: At what point did you turn on the old model and decide it was time to rethink the design?
AP: It's a tough question to answer. There was always the concept from the beginning that if you're going to be in market for 10 plus years, at some point you're going to want to refresh the design. That's just part of the game industry cadence, to do redesigns during the life cycle as components gets smaller and power consumption goes down. So I think from the very beginning there was an idea, and I'll call it a very vague idea, that we were going to do something.
I think this particular project...I throw out two years, give or take, just because when you're doing a redesign like this, it's not something you decide months in advance. We wanted to get the quality there and make sure we got it right, so we were probably planning this for about two years, give or take.
GO: Walk us through the component selection process. How tricky was it getting part sizes and prices right in terms of your launch timeframe?
AP: Obviously there's roadmaps that your CPU and component suppliers have, so you kind of have a gauge of when these things are going to hit. And then you have a certain ability internally to drive those dates forward or backward. You know the technology is due at around a certain point, and if you deploy more or less resources, you can sort of wiggle that date around.
We decided to kick this off when we had the information that the components we were going to need would hit our timeline. It's a give and take. When are the components going to be ready versus when do you want to hit market. And obviously the things in Silicon [Valley] are years and years ahead. These guys know what their next three chips are going to be, what they can manufacture and what processes they'll have in place, and so on.
Next: It looks an awful lot like an old-school Xbox...