Forward-box: Xbox Adaptive Controllers packaging is a good Microsoft move

SEATTLE—Earlier this year, Microsoft unveiled the new Xbox Adaptive Controller, and our hands-on time made us believe it may truly bridge the accessibility gap for gamers when it launches this September. During the reveal event, however, Xbox head Phil Spencer repeatedly referred to something that wasn't available for us to test out: the XAC's box.

"I really can't wait for you guys to check the box out," Spencer said in throwaway fashion while otherwise answering questions about the $99 device. Though we're not normally interested in such "unboxing" prospects, we saw between the lines: maybe this box would also be making accessible strides.

Last week, we got to go hands-on with the upcoming XAC's box, handles, and stickers—and see how these may pave the way for future Microsoft products.

  • The Xbox Adaptive Controller, revealed upon opening its box. Sam Machkovech
  • The most noticeable tweak is this new wide-hole design for any paper liners.
  • This opening is so big that I had room for more fingers. I could easily snag this with a few toes, in a pinch.
  • Should my finger dexterity be lacking, I can also push the controller down and glide it along the surface. The box is engineered with a very low profile just to keep ground impact to a minimum in this use case.
  • The liner doubles as the XAC's instruction guide; the reverse side offers a URL to learn more.
  • Getting the box open requires getting an appendage into this nylon strap, however, which is the box's most awkward stopgap. The box opens in a slow-and-firm way that anybody who has opened a Macbook Pro box would recognize. It doesn't require much force, at least.
  • Another many-fingers loop is used to remove the box's single cable.
  • What's interesting about this little box is how it very, very easily explodes with the slightest touch so that you don't have to finagle much at all to get the cord out. I opened it with one hand on purpose, just to test.
  • No baggie or twisty-tie required, thanks to how the paper holder is engineered. It's easy to imagine this convention being carried forward with other Microsoft packaging—to reduce plastic in every way possible.
  • This two-sided box tape does a few things: it offers another large-appendage opportunity, and it reduces the amount of plastic needed to seal a box.
  • Pull open with one hand…
  • …or grab both at the same time. It opens easily, either way.
  • A tiny trace of the plastic remains after opening.

The above and below galleries, which were taken at my own box-opening event at a Microsoft PR office in downtown Seattle, are captioned with explanations of what exactly is different about this box. First, every sticker has been updated to combine giant, multi-finger holes and a firm-yet-responsive adhesive. Second, every major component inside the box now includes an incredibly large loop opening so that multiple fingers, or even part of a foot, can grab hold and pull something out.

Perhaps most interestingly, the box reduces use of plastic dramatically. The only clear-plastic item connected to the XAC box is its easily removable inner-loop seal. This device only ships with two things—the lap-sized XAC controller and a single USB cable—and the latter is wrapped in a small paper box that easily folds apart once pulled out of the box. No baggies, no twisty-ties.

The easy-open box came as a result of nearly a year of testing, according to Microsoft Creative Director Kevin Marshall and designer Mark Weiser. The same beta testers who offered feedback on the XAC itself were tapped, among other testers, for input on this box. That meant acknowledging users who typically open boxes using their teeth, with only one hand, or with other limited-use cases.

  • The shipping box includes this customized Microsoft packing tape…
  • …whose end piece has no adhesive material and can take roughly two or three grown-up fingers.
  • The tape is otherwise covered with firm-yet-responsive adhesive, like a re-engineered take on 3M's Post-It material. As a result, it appears to keep a box's opening point firmly sealed yet is incredibly easy to tear off.

Some of the design considerations, admittedly, assume zero help from a guardian or living assistant, which seems like a rare occurrence—especially since it requires connecting other 3.5mm-adapter devices, like the ones we saw and tested during the device's reveal event. And the top gallery reveals one nylon-ribbon element that required more force to open than everything else. Still, the easy-pull tape, clear box design, and fall-apart paper elements all felt decidedly simple to tear through—and would be welcome in any other future Xbox box.

Was this, as Spencer hinted during the XAC reveal event in May, a sign of Microsoft boxes to come? "One reason this package has been so exciting for us is the learnings we gleaned from it," Marshall said in an interview. "The journey, our first step in, what the future holds… were very excited to embrace the possibilities."

When asked about the package's implications for future environmentally friendly efforts—particularly to reduce reliance on plastic—Marshall dodged a direct reply. "Our adaptive controller packaging is just as recyclable as the rest of our packaging," he said. "Sustainability thinking in our package design, and measuring those results on an annual basis, is a business decision. We were mindful of extra plastic, paper, and material. Those layers create barriers for the users trying to access this product."

Listing image by Sam Machkovech

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