Microsoft announced two consoles during their E3 2016 press conference last week and given the media exposure, you would be forgiven for not remembering that the Xbox One controller received another redesign. The improvements this time around are a bit subtle and many people probably won’t notice some of them right away.
For one thing, the analog sticks are more durable. I am told that moving them around feels much slicker and they should withstand all of your gaming exploits for years to come. Apparently the range has been improved but I could not get anybody to tell me how much further away from your console you can sit and still have the controller work optimally. Finally, you will find a textured surface on the rear surface of the grips similar to the controller that was bundled with the Forza 6 Motorsport Limited Edition console.
Oh… and the new Xbox One controller supports Bluetooth. This is perhaps the most surprising addition to the controller because Microsoft has opted for their own proprietary wireless protocol inside of Xbox controllers for over ten years now. The new controllers will connect to most Bluetooth devices that do not have any restrictions so you could theoretically use one with your laptop or desktop PC without the need for an adapter.
That is a nice feature to be sure but why did Microsoft feel the need to add Bluetooth now? Phil Spencer responded to this very question during the week of E3:
That same controller that comes with the Xbox One S or the custom controllers that people are building … so those are Bluetooth as well. So they’re Bluetooth and Xbox Wireless. And we specifically designed it so you can have one controller that you take back and forth from your console to your PC.
That sounds good on the surface even if the early Elite controller adopters are going to be left out but is that really the reason why Microsoft suddenly embraces Bluetooth inside of the Xbox controller?
I believe that Microsoft is preparing to include mobile devices in their vision for video games. That doesn’t mean you will be playing Halo 5: Guardians natively on your smartphone but I wouldn’t be surprised if we will see an option to stream gameplay from an Xbox One or Scorpio console to your tablet in much the same way we can already stream our games to a Windows 10 PC. Perhaps even further in the future we will see a game streaming service from Microsoft similar to PlayStation Now.
There is also the possibility of Microsoft publishing games directly on iOS and Android. They already have Wordament and Wordament Snap on those platforms but those are games that benefit from a touchscreen interface. Off the top of my head the only mobile games from Microsoft that could truly benefit from a controller are the Halo: Spartan games and Microsoft has not been publishing too many of those.
Playing our games on mobile devices would be consistent with the Play Anywhere vision expressed by Microsoft. On the one hand, it seems like an obvious solution as tens of millions of people already have capable mobile devices. On the other hand, very few would be willing to carry a controller around in case they feel like playing a game while eating lunch.
Whatever the case may be, it seems odd that Microsoft would build two different wireless protocols into their new controller simply for PC gaming. Only time will tell.