An interesting news story emerged this week that received little attention: next generation PlayStation and Xbox consoles may not arrive until 2014. There was no backlash, no angry complaints, no rushed company statements. Yes tech doesn't always have to evolve at the speed of light to stay relevant…
The news story came from gaming website Kotaku. "Both MS and Sony are telegraphing to each other that they're delaying, to milk the current [generation] and fill in previous craters better," said Kotaku's source. This was backed up by 'other sources with access to first-party companies' who also disclosed 2014 to be the target date, though some believe it could be late 2013 "if their company feels pushed".
Taken at face value this news could annoy. Microsoft launched the Xbox 360 in 2005, a year when 'Million Dollar Baby' won best picture at the Oscars (It should have been 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind'), the PSP had just hit the market, Windows Mobile 5 was the cutting edge smartphone platform of choice and the Guitar Hero franchise was unleashed upon the world. Sony launched the PS3 in 2006 when 'Crash' took the Oscar nod, Facebook launched outside the college community and everyone thought this was an iPhone.
Since then both consoles have sold over 50m units and the technology sector has changed radically. So why do Microsoft and Sony think they can get away with still selling the same old hardware? In short: because they can.
Consoles are virtually alone in giving the technology sector the one thing it craves: consistency. In an industry where gadgets are outdated within months of hitting the market, buying a games console guarantees years of relevance. It provides peace of mind.
Equally important is it gives games developers' discipline. Hardware is locked down so code has to be rigorously optimised. There's no option to tell console owners to buy a better graphics card or increase their RAM. Consequently even now the limits of both the PS3 and Xbox keep being stretched and tech demos like the one above still blow the mind.
Likewise all this hard effort is rewarded. Every games console is eventually hacked, but the proportion of pirated games is so low it is dragging developers from the more powerful - seemingly premium - PC market and relegating it to something of an also ran.
Furthermore while it is true Microsoft and Sony haven't improved the power of either machine in six years (they can't, that is the point), they have continuously evolved them. Both have had redesigns that shrunk their dimensions and made them run cooler and quieter and these changes came combined with price cuts. This is no mean feat considering consoles take years before they reach profitability. The PS3 initially lost Sony $307 per unit.