Microsoft Xpad: what if Ballmer changed the game and created an iPad competitor based on Xbox?

What if Microsoft changed up the rules and created a pad that was based on Xbox and Xbox Live?

Sometimes over the weekend, I get to play video games. My wife prefers the PS3, but I tend to gravitate towards the Xbox 360. I've been catching up on the old Mass Effect after having used up all the available Splinter Cell variations.

The thing about Mass Effect is every time you transition from one area to another, you have to ride these unbelievably slow elevators.

It gives you time to think.

In and amongst all this glorious weekend time, I read Adrian's iPad caught Microsoft with its pants down article.

Everyone is fond of saying Ballmer and Microsoft don't "get" consumer products, but the Xbox rocks. It's a perfect system, designed to do exactly what it was intended to do, which is to host some of the best games ever made. It had an App Store way before the iPhone did. It's also highly social, providing social networking functions years before Facebook arrived on the scene.

The Xbox is not a Windows 7 machine. It's not designed for use with a mouse or a stylus. In fact, now that Natal is Kinect (oh, I frakin' hate that name!), the Xbox can be used without any interface device at all. Admittedly, not everyone wants to feed Skittles, but Microsoft clearly gets that users don't always use mice or styli.

This brings me back to Microsoft vs. the iPad.

As soon as the tablet PCs came out, I bought myself one. It was wildly expensive compared to a regular laptop (close to a 100% premium) and it failed constantly. I returned it back to Acer at least twice. But I wanted to be able to have a tablet-form machine that I could take notes on and draw design sketches on.

I never did use it for that. First, every time I flipped the screen around, the machine flipped out. I had to reboot. Rebooting took -- well -- it seemed like days. The reason I mention this is that while the tablet PC was technically transformable. I tended to either keep it in laptop mode or tablet mode for months at a time.

Of course, XP was running on a device with 256 meg of RAM and there was no way to add RAM. Admittedly, almost 10 years later, the iPad also has only 256 megabytes of RAM and there's no way to modify the iPad at all. The difference is that the iPad isn't trying to run XP.

My elevator has almost reached the Normandy's docking area, so I better finish this up.

Let's take a minute to look at some of Microsoft's product areas. There's Windows, of course. Then there's the highly under-appreciated Zune. Then there's Xbox and Xbox Live. Then there's Kinect for Xbox. Then there's Windows Media Center, which also provides a non-mouse, non-pen interface.

Clearly, at some level, Microsoft does, in fact, grok computing environments that work in ways that go beyond the pen and the mouse.

Apple has turned a barely functional device (the iPad) into a consumer phenom. They've convinced a whole new group of users that they don't need to create (normally Apple's core market), but instead consume. Even for consuming, the iPad is barely adequate. You can't share bookmarks, the email interface is dumb to the point of silliness, and there's no file system.

Yet, even I bought an iPad.

I don't have much of a use for it, but I own it (my wife really likes the thing). But I'm different from the average consumer. I'm far more a creator than a consumer. If there were a Windows 7-based pad, I'd buy it and I'd probably install my programming environment on it and code while others are happily playing We Rule on their iPads.

Most consumers will not and would not buy a Windows 7 pad computer. They're fed up, overwhelmed, and baffled with Windows configuration, debugging, malware, and all the rest. If the Steve of the Ballmer clan thinks Microsoft's future is in a Windows 7 pad, he's unquestionably mistaken. As a content creator and a geek, that fact bums me out, but it's obvious and it's true.

Consumers do, however, love the Xbox. In this part if its business, Microsoft clearly gets it.

So, what about an Xpad?

Apple has clearly proven that games work on the pad form-factor. Microsoft has some of the very best game talent anywhere.

What if Microsoft changed up the rules and created a pad that was based on Xbox and Xbox Live? It'd support music from Zune, it'd support media and content downloading. It'd have an already well-baked and operational app store. It'd have an already deeply loyal social networking component in Xbox Live.

It'd change the pad game, quite literally. I'd buy one in a heartbeat.

Well, that's it for me. Skippy Shepard and I have some geth to kill.

What about you? Would you buy an Xpad? Oh, man. Can you imaging playing a real game of Halo from anywhere, against all your friends? It gives me shivers!

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