Project Scorpio: The Next Xbox

Last year, I upgraded from my Xbox 360 to an Xbox One S. At the time, I knew that “Project Scorpio” was going to be coming in late 2017, but the time was right for me and I wanted to move onto the Xbox One platform.

The fact the Xbox One S and “Project Scorpio” were announced at the same time was an interesting move. Game consoles aren’t usually announced so early, but this current generation (often called the 8th generation) of consoles is likely to be around longer than others.

Watch the Project Scorpio announcement

Both Sony and Microsoft have adopted the x86 processor architecture found in PCs, and while they’re still highly customised, the development of this common architecture is good for the console makers and the software developers alike.

We’ve already seen an updated PlayStation 4, so an updated Xbox just made sense and we’ll likely see more hardware refreshes in the future. I bet that games for Xbox One will continue to be developed and enjoyed even longer than the previous generation. The Xbox 360 stayed on the market for 11 years and its games can be enjoyed through backwards compatibility on the Xbox One today.

The message is strong

Microsoft has been very clear that “Project Scorpio” is a mid-generation refresh, but this time it’s a performance boost to the machine itself while remaining 100% compatible with the all of the Xbox One games and accessories currently on the market.

“The most powerful console ever.
Holiday 2017.” – Microsoft

They’ve also been clear that “Project Scorpio” has been designed for the fans who want the best. Microsoft stated that they wanted to make the most powerful console on the market – and it looks like they’ve achieved it.

A high-end version of the Xbox One

The performance updates on the machine itself are designed to enable 4K gaming and new VR experiences, though it is expected that existing Xbox One games will also see a general performance boost, even when displaying on 1080p televisions.

Even though it has been stated that there will be no games which will be exclusive to “Project Scorpio”, I have no doubt that there will be some games that will take advantage of the extra power and will be best experienced on the new machine.

Forza on Scorpio

Some existing Xbox One games (Gears of War Ultimate Edition, Forza Horizon 3) already include 4K assets, so the work to upgrade the games to work on high resolution “Project Scorpio” would be minimal. I wonder how many other games have already got high resolution graphics ready for 4K on day one.

Microsoft have really come together

One of the most impressive things about “Project Scorpio” is that it has been built with the full power of Microsoft behind it:

There’s no doubt that Microsoft is a hardware company and their expertise has also allowed for impressive cooling and performance tuning throughout the machine.

Scorpio

DirectX is now built in to the hardware. This is really impressive and means that the hardware has to do less work for games built using DirectX APIs.

Existing games have been profiled for performance and the telemetry of the software has gone into the design of actual silicon. This is a really interesting technique for Microsoft and may help direct performance improvements for their Azure cloud platform in the future.

“Project Scorpio” has been in the works for a while

I recently re-watched the original Xbox One announcement – it was really bad. They announced it just before E3 and had a focus on TV, entertainment, and the use of Kinect.

Since then, the management of the Xbox operation has changed and they’re now way more focused on the feedback of gamers and developers alike.

This time, Microsoft have been talking to industry experts from Digital Foundry, for the tech specifics, and to Gamasutra, to showcase what they’re doing for developers. This way, the industry experts can ask the questions the fans want to know and tell the story as they see it.

This is a marked improvement from what can only be described as a fumbled Xbox One announcement.

This could be the start of something very different

I’m really excited about what “Project Scorpio” has to offer and I’m likely to get one at some point in 2018.

I have a feeling that there’s more to “Project Scorpio” than just a hardware refresh and I can’t help but wonder if we’ll see changes to the way the games are delivered too.

If the Xbox One platform is going to be around for a long time, why bother creating a new game every time? There’s no reason why a games franchise like Forza or Halo couldn’t be delivered as a service with constantly updated content and graphics.

We’ll hear more about “Project Scorpio” at E3 in June. This will likely include the final name and design.

Console Tabs Coming to Windows?

I was overjoyed when I first heard that Microsoft would be improving the console in Windows 10 (yeah, really) and we’ve had a steady amount of updates since then – including a load of improvements in the Creators Update.

All the updates we’ve had so far have been great and all… but I’ve been begging to have tab support in the console. And yes I voted for it on User Voice!

This morning I saw a couple of interesting posts from Windows Central and MSPoweruser with reports of a “Tabbed Shell” interface coming to Windows 10 in a future update.

Obviously my nerdy mind immediately went to the command line. (See above for my mock-up of what it might look like.)

It suddenly becomes super-obvious that having tab support at the OS level makes so much sense. From an engineering point of view there is no point in having multiple teams working on their own implementation of tabs in Windows.

When something crashes you don’t want one tab to take out all of the others. With support built directly into the shell you can ensure stability and consistency across all applications.

Hopefully we’ll find out more at the Build conference next month… and hopefully I’ll be using PowerShell in a tabbed interface in the not too distant future!

Note: yes I know there apps which provide tabbed consoles in Windows. I’m really interested by Hyper, but it doesn’t feel ready for every day use yet.

Mindfulness Meditation

Like other millennials I spent a lot of time on the internet when I was growing up. I firmly placed my attention on the exciting world of operating systems and software applications. I learned how to write my own software and build my own networks of computers.

But there’s more to life than just one aspect, and so a decade ago I started to broaden my horizons from the scope of technology to find other subjects that interested me.

I quickly found that I had just as much interest in behavioural science, psychology, and self improvement.

A little bit of reading about meditation will give you the impression that it’s something worth doing – anyone who’s interested in self-improvement has probably come across a book about it and have been amazed by the seemingly incredible benefits in lists like this:

  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • More energy and improved sleep
  • Better cognitive and emotional functions
  • Health benefits and more…

I had to find out more.

I’ve tried a number of forms of meditation over the years, but the one that has stuck with me the most is mindfulness mediation.

There isn’t much you need in order to get started:

  • About 15 to 20 minutes of free time
  • A quiet place without too many distractions
  • A timer or stopwatch
  • No expectations

Sit down in your quiet place in a comfortable position, set your timer for 15 minutes, and close your eyes.

All you need to do is be aware of the breath as it comes in and out of your nose. Breath slowly and concentrate on how the air feels as it hits your nostrils. Breathe deeply, but don’t try to control your breath – just experience it as it happens.

As you sit there you’ll notice that many thoughts arise to try and take your attention away from your breath.

The mind wanders, and this is what minds do, it’s not a problem or a mistake. The awareness of this fact is what the practice is all about. Over time you’ll learn the patterns of thoughts which try to take your attention away. Don’t fight it, but let it pass – and guide your attention back to your breath.

Your mind will wander like this many times, and that’s okay – just keep guide your attention back to your breath as many times as is necessary.

When your timer goes off, slowly open your eyes and you’ll be ready to go about your day.

This is the practice of mindfulness meditation in its most simplest form. Sounds easy? Not really…

Many people (myself included) are frustrated and uncomfortable at first. It’s a very strange sensation to realise that your mind jumps around like it does.

Equally, people often have expectations that all those benefits listed earlier must happen right away. This is simply not how it works. It takes time.

Mindfulness isn’t something that just happens – it’s something you need to work on. That’s why it’s called a practice.

After a while you’ll find that it does make a difference, and you’ll be mindful of this mind wandering in other aspects of your life.

I have found this to be especially noticeable when reading, writing, and working on many of the tasks required in software development. The pull is real, and can be very distracting if you let it. My generation has been accused many times of having a short attention span.

I suggest Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world (2011) as a really good foundation for bringing mindfulness into your every day life.

Will the “Surface Phone” be a foldable cellular PC?

Remember the introduction of the Lumia 950 XL, 950 and 550?

Panos was pretty clear that he had only just taken over the Lumia efforts and the design of those phones (along with the Band) were things that he had inherited.

The Surface team must be working on a phone using this platform, and you can guarantee that it is going to create a new genre of devices in the same way the original Surface did for the 2 in 1.

The goal is to bring Windows 10 to life in your pocket, and the recent announcements of full Windows 10 running on ARM will allow for that. This means you can have small and always connected cellular devices which can instantly switch from being a phone to being a PC.

But what would something like that look like?

This week MSPoweruser published a new patent for a foldable phone-to-tablet mobile device:

In this patent, Microsoft is describing a device that is flexible supported by a flexible hinge structure that secures the plurality of housings to each other, permits the plurality of housings to rotate about an axis in relation to each other, and supports a continuous viewing area of the display device that extends across the plurality of housings and the flexible hinge structure.

I suggest you go to MSPoweruser and have a look for yourself – it’s very interesting.

One of the images that struck me was a view of the bottom of the device. I immediately connected it to the legendary Microsoft Courier device, which was famously abandoned late in the development process.

But the Courier isn’t the only foldable device we’ve seen Microsoft work on.

Microsoft’s Future Vision video from 2009 also featured a small foldable device. This one could also disconnect into two separate devices. (See this patent for more)

And one of my favourites, the flexible notebook device from 2015.

While I don’t think we’re at the stage of truly flexible computers that act like paper, I do think it’s likely that the technology is ready for a foldable device which would be able to transform between a phone and a tablet. Let’s see if Microsoft do it this year.

What is Mixed Reality?

I’ve not created a new category for my website for years – but there’s something that I have spending a lot of time working and I need to start writing about: mixed reality.

Mixed reality is a broad umbrella of technologies which enable a real and virtual worlds to be blended together to create a single environment where physical and digital objects interact with each other.

I remember when I was in school I would imagine what it would be like to have a “heads up display” all the time. I’d imagine information that I’d see about people and surroundings, interactive maps giving me directions, reminders about errands I need to run, all sorts of things.

Thanks to science fiction there was no doubt in my mind that it was an inevitability, and it would happen in my life time – but I didn’t really know how or when it would happen.

Fortaleza Leak

Back in 2012 a very interesting image appeared on the internet. It was from an Xbox presentation which mentioned something called Fortaleza Glasses. Rumours of Project Fortaleza had been going for a while, and I followed the subject with great interest.

Linked to Alex Kipman, the creator of the Kinect, it was thought that these glasses would be Microsoft’s move to leap ahead of virtual reality and into some new world of augmented reality. I hope so much that it was true…

HoloLens

..and I remember how amazed I was when I found out it was true.

HoloLens at Home

Well, over the last six months I have not only tried the HoloLens, but spend many hours using it in both professionally and in my home. I’ve been learning how it works, how to develop software for it, and most importantly; I’ve been learning about what it means for the future of software.

This is a whole new kind of user experience, and I believe that mixed reality is the future of how humans will interact with software.

Actiongram

But mixed reality is about experience, not technology. When I say that I believe it is the future of how humans will interact with software – I am not saying that everyone will wear headsets. It won’t be long until there are other ways to project digital items into the physical world.

It breaks down the walls between physical and virtual reality – today this means vision and sound, but the concept of mixed reality goes beyond those senses. As a software architect it excites me to think about the user experiences which everyone in the augmented/virtual/mixed reality community is going to help shape, and I’m to write about what I learn as I go.

Now that I have experienced mixed reality, there’s no going back.

It’s real, it’s getting better all the time, and it’s here to stay.