xBox and Mac Mini released today

Now, these don’t really compete with one another, but since they were released the same day, I thought it would be fun to discuss:

From the c77 front page:

Yesterday Microsoft took the wraps off of their redesigned Xbox while this morning Apple quietly released their new Mac Mini. Though the products are not in the same categories, both reveal the companies’ diverging design philosophies: Microsoft is clearly going after the Alienware-inspired male-centric gaming demographic, whereas Apple seems to be seeking admission to MoMA’s permanent collection by unibody-izing the previously plastic Mini into an ultra-minimal form.

In terms of a subjective preference of style, Apple’s direction has got my vote hands-down, though it can be argued they’re simply doing more of the same; others, like Digital Trends’ Rob Enderle, think the new Xbox means Microsoft is “inching closer” or even “passing Apple in product design.” I think Enderle’s assertions are nuts, but Xbox fans disagree or find the design irrelevant: After being announced, the new Xbox sold out on Amazon in less than 24 hours. Different strokes…

My thoughts:

The Apple is an extension of a preexisting design methodology, manufacturing technique, and brand statement… BUT, an excellent job at doing that. Hipstomp is incorrect when he says this is going to MoMA… the entire collection is going to MoMA, and this is a fantastic example of ID in this century, not single items, but a philosophy applied across a family of artifacts that all work together or on their own. I have the previous Mac Mini to power my TV experience (and a whole bunch of other apple stuff, full disclosure) and I could easily see myself getting this new Mac Mini as well.

The xBox on the flip side works as a nice counterpoint. This is not designed for MoMA, it is designed for 16 year olds who game, and game hard. I won’t get it (I bought a Wii when it came out and I’m good) and I am nowhere near the target audience. In theory, I shouldn’t like the xBox at all, I should almost be repulsed by it. I think it could have been pushed farther in that respect, but at the end of the day what matters here is games, and games it has. Lots of 'em. I think they did a good job of keeping it contemporary and clean while making it slightly aggressive and the little top-heaviness of it almost makes it a tad uncomfortable which is a nice little subconscious design cue. It is also easily recognizable as an evolution from the previous edition, which is a first for xBox which typically radically changed. The last one was pretty well done and I think they were right to take this approach, contemporizing the icon they already have.

Conclusion, both are very good… it is a good time to be a designer when companies want to invest this heavily in design and they understand the value of it.Now we as designers need to live up to our potential!

Take the logos off and you have no trouble knowing which is which, so I’d say success on both counts there as well.

When you take Jonathan Ive and his stacked team of talent at Apple, and pit it against Ray Riley at Microsoft and his stacked team of talent… well, we all win in a way.
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I like meat and veggies. I like loafers and sneakers. I like snow and the beach.

I like both of them. They’re both very different but tell their story equally well.

I thought Microsoft sourced their design work to Astro for the last XBox? (Correct me if needed).

I’d have to slightly disagree with the 16-year old targeting. While 16 year olds are included, xBox has always been targeted toward older gamers (I’m talking about college students - 30s, maybe pushing mid 30s) with their more mature collection of games. Of course, that’s been changing (with Kinect/Natal, and other friendlier titles like Viva Pinata, Sonic, etc), but I still think their target is young adult males. I think this market is attracted toward aggressive and angular forms + black (ask any 20 something year old if they think the stealth bomber looks cool).

One thing that sort of bothers me is the contradiction in form language of the new xBox with the new Kinect platform that’s been marketed as family friendly. I can’t see a young family with toddlers buying this, while they will most certainly pick up a Wii.

Also, they didn’t really update the controller to reflect the new form language, which aesthetically is very different, but the 360 controller is insanely awesome, so no complaints from anyone, I think.

I like the new xBox, although the Alienware vents bother me a little. Hopefully it’s a result of function and will solve the problem of overheated xBoxes.

No comment on the Mac mini. zz

Had to check the date on this post :wink:

Mini is nice, but I can see how it’s hard to get excited about the image (see comment on core). It’s when you see Apple products IRL that they become irresistible. As designers, we can picture that more clearly looking at an image.

XBOX doesn’t do much for me. I can see they were going after the (fading) facet/stealth trend, but as yo! says, they should’ve pushed it harder. Any images of the controller?

I think Astro did the last X360 (and Alienware btw), did they do this one as well?

I don’t think Kinect and the controller fit too well

This is where Apple excels over most, creating that language. You can yawn at an individual product, but it is hard to knock their single minded pursuit of an idea and their ability to resist the temptation to reinvent themselves with every product.

I’m not sure if Astro was involved with this one, but they were involved with the last one, and Teague was also involved withe the first two. I’m sure a large group like Microsoft has several external consultants weighing on on phase 1 as well as their own team. I know Aaron Hughes was there for a bit after Astro, and I mentioned Ray Riley before, formerly at Nike.

I think Brett put it well :wink:

Agreed with all the above. As a standalone example of industrial design the I’ll admit I find the Mac Mini a little bland -however taken in context as an extension of their design strategy it works perfectly.

I also have no complaints about the X-box…it is what it is…

The controller in the image posted by tangerine was done by Carbon Design Group for the x-box 360 - Perhaps a Kinect specific controller will emerge soon.

I really like the new xbox. Hated the looks of the old one. I thought it was far too generic. I think this new one is more Zonda than Alienware. It’s edgy and over-the-top. Fun.

The Kinect works with the new console, but I would suppose is more generic because it is intended to be mounted on the TV and blend in a big. It would go great with a Samsung LCD, shiny black plastic and all.

The Mac Mini is exactly what I would expect, which is great, but no fun to talk about. Apple is like Roger Federer, always winning becomes boring at some point.

Lastly, I think MS does have some great design muscle. This is only one direction they are going. Their PC hardware shows other directions. Maybe that is the difference, Apple is like FLW, you have to live with what they want you to have. MS is like GM, give the clients a variety of choices.

The new Xbox looks deconstructed, as if it were sliced at an angle and melted into itself, while burning to black. Even the air vents on the side allude to this.

The new Mini reminds me of almost the opposite, it’s aluminum shell has closed up every seam. It’s as if the aluminum has enveloped the plastic roof leaving only the Apple logo. The ports and access panel become dark and efficiently condensed/re-organized

One grows while the other burns. It’s interesting that both products are smaller than their predecessors, but one does so by ‘burning’ weight, and the other by ‘evolving’ structure. Both are equally dramatic.

Haha, this is so true, but I’d rather use the word “ordinary” instead of boring.

Excellent thoughts and comments guys!

eddison: I don’t like my choice of words either. Perhaps “expected” is better?

I think they are both pretty cool, the xBox controller has always been a major fail though, it’s terrible.

I think the aesthetic of the xBox is target market appropriate and I think the aesthetic of the mini appropriate to Apple’s ID efforts as a whole.

The mini’s styling certainly portrays a more timeless or “future classic” look whereas the xBox will eventually stale, not to mention be covered with dust inside a week’s use due to static, as does the PS3, being black does not help in this regard.

When you buy either of these products you really are buying them for the interactive experience and that experience has a shelf life based on how soon the technology they utilize becomes obsolete.

On a personal level I’m kind of disturbed by the fact that so much emphasis is put into aesthetics so that products like these sell. The mini might have a more timeless aesthetic, but the device itself will be obsolete with very limited (if any) upgrade-ability inside of a decade, if that. All of this to me seems somehow very trite as the aesthetic of both seems to lie about the product’s longevity.

Wait. Really? The first controller was terrible, yes, but the 360 controller is nothing short of ergonomo-dise. Of course, it’s not perfect, but man, I think the 360 controller is one of the best controllers out there, and it’s sexy

Are you talking about the one you posted the pic of? I dunno I always thought it looked and felt cheap, like the old pseudo-ergonomic after market controllers they had for NES and Sega. There’s certainly an aesthetic disconnect between the box and the controller…not that the PS3’s controller is much better, but it feels more solid to me.

+1. First controller (left) is horrible, is was made for people with toilet lid hands (that is what the comic refers too, not the current controller). The one on the right is the best controller out there ergonomics-wise. The 360 controller looks better, fits the 360 design, and has slightly better ergonomics. Except for the battery pack underneath that obstructs the fingers, so in the end I would say controller #2 is still the best.

I find it strange that they didn’t update anything but the color to fit the redesign. Then again, the PS3 controller was just a PS2 dual shock if I remember correctly, and still is.

Exterior remained the same (except the color) since the original PSX controller. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Probably will be a design classic (almost already is) like the original Atari joystick and NES square controllers

I may be out there, but I think the new X-box is poor design.

I don’t have time for a full review, (will try to do a visual one later), but a few things-

  1. Is this to be standing up or lying down? Or both? Lots of inconsistencies in design that make it look confused. The logo on the tray and eject button graphics make it look like it should stand. The power button is oriented for laying down. Logo on the side says it should stand up. Ports in the back indicate it should lay down. I have no problem if it can be used for both, but looks like features were randomly applied. Not to even mention the little feet on it that look like an afterthought (strangely not in some press shots, but in others).

  2. Disc tray and whatever the flap on the bottom is are on opposite side of the case and look visual unbalanced. Couldn’t both those things be centered?

  3. Side logo is not in the middle. Not even aligned with the ending of the vents.

  4. Side vents are strange and create a odd shaped negative space behind them and the back of the case. Even the angle of the vent arrangements is strange as is parallel to the front of the case at the front of them, but at some other random angle at the back.

  5. Top vents have nothing to do visually with the side vents.

  6. The middle crease looks to have some funny radius pinching where they are wrapping a tight rad around a large one (the side). Looks like a mistake, not a purposeful edgy detail. Also not well resolved where it hits the center circle area for the power button.

  7. Glossy finish, OK, maybe, but doesn’t match the controller as has been said.

  8. Visual language I agree doesn’t extend to the KINECT thing, or the controllers.

  9. Overall massing looks like it will fall over. Could have easily been fixed with the same shape, but putting the power button higher up / lower (also would eliminate the strange intersection of the side creases meeting the circle).

In general, I think there are some good starting points, but feels half done, or done by committee. If this is the best they can do, I’m pretty disappointed for a huge company that has access to the best firms and designers in the world. Wii blows it away design-wise, IMHO, though perhaps a different market, I accept.

my design rating = 69/100


PS. I’m not a gamer, so maybe I don’t get it, but I think I do know good and bad design when I see it.

  1. It’s meant for both. This is inherited from the first 360. This really was just a hardware boost + makeover. I’m sure they did not intend to change any of its functionality with its form. That’s why so many things you brought up are the way they are (logo on the side, etc). When it’s standing up, the cables work fine. It’s designed to be used in both situations, although best upright. Most locations of features are left over from the previous box.

  2. That’s a result of function. Putting the cd tray right in the middle is simply not an efficient use of space. The flap at the bottom has USB ports for corded controllers.

  3. The location of the power button is also sort of a legacy thing. The asymmetry was in the original 360.

I agree with many of your points though, but it does function well.

I will expand on a couple of themes in here.

The first one being that I agree with RK…the XBox looks as though it was designed by committee. Unlike Apple, it seems to speak to me that Microsoft is still a company that design is run by Marketing. A mishmash of design themes that gives their overal product an overdone look. If I were a betting man, I would guess that several design firms contributed to the initial design language. The product got brought in house to flesh it out. Marketing and upper management wanted to play Mr. Potatohead by merging design elements from Design Firm A’s proposal and Design Firm B’s proposal. They then handed off the Mechanical Design to another team that was somewhat disconnected from the ID process that ends up making them the long pole in the tent. This ends up rushing the translation of surfacing from the ID phase into the production phase creating a design that is ALMOST there, but not fully resolved.

I have no idea, but especially looking at the console, the controller, and that long box with a camera or whatever it is in it don’t mesh as a product line. Which lends more credence to my Potatohead Theory.

As for Apple, they’re the opposite. They’re bordering on overdesigning everything. As has already been stated a few times in this thread…they’re starting to get boring. Staid. Everything is almost TOO perfect. I want to see them take a chance again. I want the next original iMac. Something that tells the world that Apple still knows how to Think Different.

Diego Rodrieguez’ recent post, “Our Brand Can’t Go There” speaks to this thought process (metacool: Our brand can't go there...). As much as I respect and want the Design power of their design team, I want to see them take some chances with the Apple Brand. They have with products as a whole, but not so much with the Apple Design language, which has been essentially consistent since the original iPod came out. What’s that, now, 10 years?

Apple is continuous yes, but also evolving and I think perfecting. Just in iPods alone, I have a first gen, third gen, first gen nano, 2nd gen nano, first IPhone, 3GS iPhone… not to mention all the imacs and Macbooks. Point is they are evolving in a way that is perfecting the design. To my mind, in the right way. Most other brands, MS, as an example, seem to start from scratch each time and have no cohesive design philosophy… that I think it the point of reckoning.

Mr. Potatoehead for sure. Design Fail.