"Cloud" is a lovely piece of jargon that makes you look forward-thinking and futuristic when you say it, even though it really doesn't mean anything. However, Microsoft's Phil Harrison claims that they can use Xbox One's server infrastructure to improve the console's performance over the years, and update the hardware's potential.
"The way in which you keep the market fresh is keep the technology fresh and keep the development ecosystem growing so that new and exciting experiences are coming out," the Xbox Division chief told MCV. "And with Xbox One using the power of cloud we can add features, we can add functionality, we can have performance increases over time. I think that will keep the platform very fresh over a long period of time."
We can see Xbox Live being a perfect way of distributing regular driver updates and UI improvements (because it already is), but it's unclear whether Harrison is talking about the holy grail of cloud processing. The idea of outsourcing graphical processing to remote servers and effectively increasing a console's horsepower has been mentioned several times by Microsoft, but in the real world we live in, inconsistent broadband speeds makes it practically impossible at least in the immediate future. It's likely that he's referring to regular user experience updates and extra features to keep the console competitive over a long hardware cycle. Plus, with a more powerful competitor in raw performance terms releasing in the same month, it's probably worth trying to score points when possible.
Speaking of the immediate future, Harrison also believes that Microsoft has laid the groundwork for a digital-only future. "On a macro-global scale, the world is clearly moving in a digital direction. It is, I think, an unstoppable, inexorable momentum. We are going to see the world be truly digital. But with Xbox One we quite correctly give people choice," he continued.
"It really depends on where you live. It's my favourite William Gibson quote: 'The future is already here - it's just not very evenly distributed.' If you go to South Korea, the market is entirely digital. The infrastructure that they have with broadband is so powerful that there is no physical retail distribution of games. It is going to be a slow evolution, not a revolution."
Most pundits and publishers agree that we're headed inexorably towards a disc-free future, though Microsoft's plans for online check-ins, disc-based DRM and family sharing were arguably moving too fast for the here and now. Either way, we'll find out what the Xbox One is capable of at launch next month.