At first, the novelty of moving pixels was enough, but when gaming got serious, so did design and consideration for ergonomics. Consoles have become more sleek and shiny, controllers more rounded and hand friendly, all in a bid to win our consumerist hearts and *ahem* "hard earned" money.
Now, obviously the console designers have to take into consideration all the technical..erm...stuff that has to go into the actual console, which limits their ideas somewhat. Personally, I think the Xbox 360 has the upper hand in design. Whilst the old design was branded for 'hardcore' gamers, the xbox360 has a more universal appeal and customisation options such as faceplates and skins, as well as being available in black or white. You can get ps3 skins as well but that's it.
To me, the ps3 lacks any personality what-so-ever and has anyone else noticed that it's just the ps2 with a convex slab on top? They have polished a turd.
It just seems like Microsoft have beaten Sony to the punch every time. Their online experience is better, they incorporated a guide button onto their controller, which is miles better than Sonys and now they have avatars! What more could you want? Yeah, I know, free Xbox live, never mind.
Sony also seems to have strayed off the gaming path; their console is more like a multi-media Frankenstein with web browsing, blue-ray compatibility, blah blah blah, where's the soul? The entire 360 dashboard menus are dedicated to game-related stuff and sure you can upload pictures, download movies and play music as well, but the focus is still on gaming and the fun of it. It's just full of life. Zomg, I'm a fan-girl, oh noes.
As far as Nintendo goes, I think their consoles have at least tried to look a bit different and they'll always be retro classics like the Snes with those rectangle controllers. Their latest console, the Wii, while not so graphically capable as others, is light and slim and also supports it's 'wiimotes' using motion sensor technology and more recently, the wiiboard using pressure sensitivity. All clean cut white with blue lights and a user friendly interface.
Nintendos' DS is also a forerunner in the handheld market with the lite versions improved sleek design and of course the touch screen capability is far more interesting than anything Sony could produce with it’s PSP.
Well I've rambled on for quite a bit now, so I'll wrap it up. Call me biased but I think it would be hard to surpass the Xbox controller at this moment in time; It's just so comfortable and easy to use. Sony have, of course, tried and failed to produce a better one after the whole boomerang incident, bless 'em.
Console design has to go to the Xbox as well; the first one stood out and the 360 has successfully moved with the times. I actually couldn't find the ps3s’ 'on' switch for quite a while, I am ashamed to say but you can't really miss it on the 360 now, can you? Especially when it's sporting those red lights we've all grown to fear.