Slow as Sunday: The relationship between USB memory devices and Project Natal

by: Nathan -
First, let me apologize for missing more than a few weeks with this editorial. I hope you can forgive me and appreciate how the News Roundup audio edition, which I host and edit, has eaten up a lot of my free time during the weekends. With more practice and time I hope to be able to do the podcast and this editorial every weekend, giving you folks a new feature and the editorials you've come to expect.

Second, I just want to preface this Slow as Sunday by saying that most of what I'm going to say is assumed and not confirmed. In my research I haven't stumbled across anything to confirm my suspicions, yet.

On the long journey home from Boston, MA to Pickerington, OH by car, I spent a lot of time reviewing the events of last weekend. One thing that continually came up again and again was the missed opportunity of asking Major Nelson some of the burning questions I had about the compatibility between the new USB memory utilization for the Xbox 360 and Windows Phone 7 series. I'm still kicking myself about that, but a simple question came to mind that made things fall into place for me; Why would they start the USB memory usage now?

The obvious answer, for me, was that the Xbox team was using this new USB memory usage now in order to test its compatibility with the current 360 devices and how it will work with future devices that rely on flash memory. Now, there are 3 such devices that could utilize flash: 7 series phones, a new 360 form factor, and Project Natal. I immediately eliminated a new form factor as the potential cause of the testing, simply because there wasn't enough information besides a rumored motherboard. Moving on, I eliminated a 7 series phone as the primary cause, because I couldn't think of a really good reason Microsoft would use storage for save game files and DLC for a console on a mobile platform as a selling point. That left Project Natal and here are my three reasons why the current utilization of USB flash memory on the 360 relates to Microsoft's upcoming peripheral for the 360:

Reason one- a lack of internet connectivity
There are two ways Microsoft could solve the problem of integrating Natal's new functions with the current dashboard experience on a 360 without a broadband connection. They could include a disk with the device or have built in drivers in the device itself. If Microsoft is using flash to store all the drivers and software patches necessary to run a natal on a 360 built into the device itself, then testing out that functionality before launch makes a lot of sense.

Reason two- the timing of the introduction of USB memory
With a vague release date ever creeping closer, Microsoft needs to do everything it can to make sure the Natal will function properly at launch in order to avoid delays. If Natal is using flash, then the 5-8 month window between the introduction of USB memory utilization and the launch of Natal gives Microsoft plenty of time to work out any kinks. Maybe just as important, that time also allows Microsoft an opportunity to find solutions for new hacking techniques that are sure to spring up. It would stink for Microsoft if the software and drivers built into Natal are hacked and manipulated on day one.

Reason three- preemptively preventing a backlash
Imagine the response from the gaming community when the first tearing apart of a Natal hits the internet and the use of flash memory is discovered. There will be a lot of angry gamers complaining that Microsoft didn't provide that feature to owners of 360s who won't buy a Natal. By providing this function before the launch of Natal, Microsoft preemptively prevents this backlash.

I'm not saying that flash and Windows Phone 7 series don't fit into the equation but it's because of these three reasons that I have concluded that A) Natal will include built in flash memory and B) this explains the timing of the introduction of USB memory utilization on the Xbox 360.
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