> ...and Joy: The Battle of the Living Room!

...and Joy: The Battle of the Living Room!

Posted on Tuesday, January 3, 2012 | No Comments

Looking back over the past year, there was a clear technology battle underway that could affect a place in our everyday lives; that battle was for your living room. 

It’s not a new battle and there have been many players over the years; starting with the cable companies, Sky, broadband providers and now very much swinging directly in the hands of the ‘big three’ (Apple, Google, Microsoft). 

A new Apple TV device was launched, which promised integration into the infamous iTunes platform and whilst Apple continuously claimed that the device was still in ‘hobby’ mode, the die-hard fans went out and bought, hacked, watched and played.  Largely though, the device remained a ‘hobbyist’ piece of kit for the minority.  It’s still a device many are looking and reflecting upon as the future of TV, but I’m sceptical of the prospect of iPhone/iPad applications running on the television screen being the ultimate answer in TV entertainment.

Likewise, and to much greater fanfare, Google announced their new Google TV venture and even managed to wrangle in some device manufacturers in the form of Sony and Logitech into building set top boxes for them, which looked promising indeed for the Internet Search giant.  The only problem however was that no one seemed interested in buying their devices and the reviews suggested that they still difficult to use for things beyond changing the channel (such as searching the Internet – presumably via Google Search).  Towards the end of the year, Logitech announced huge losses in their investment into the project and look likely to pull out of the venture all together at some point in the near future.

It seemed that Microsoft were once again, well and truly out of the race in the battle for the TV space – however they may recently have positioned themselves as the front runners and it could have much wider implications.  Let me explain....

The humble Xbox was the device that Microsoft launched to attack the games entertainment market and steal eyeballs (or perhaps that should be thumbs?), from Sega, Nintendo and Sony in the console world – and whilst Sega and Nintendo seemed to stumble, Sony provided a much bigger obstacle to overcome.  Not to worry though, because the hackers had already discovered vulnerability in Microsoft’s Xbox, which allowed the device to be ‘updated’ with new software such as XBMC (Xbox Media Centre), which effectively allowed music and movies to be loaded directly onto the device (as well as free, ripped – though illegal – games to be played).

Whilst other companies might have fought with the users (and I’m sure they initially did), Microsoft saw what happened and learnt from it and by the time the Xbox 360 launched, ‘Media Center’ was built right into the device.  Phase one was then complete. 

Phase two was to catch up with the radical new controllers that Nintendo had introduced with the launch of the Wii.  The way to do this was to bring out something new and radical – the Kinect, a 3D camera and voice recognition device that allows “you to be the controller” as the tag line says.  The device was the biggest selling piece of kit that Christmas and has broken many other records along the way.  The Xbox sales have spiralled and has been the number one console for a number of consecutive months, almost unchallenged as Sony have struggled to match the pizzazz of the Kinect and faced their own security problems following a hacking attack on their customer databases.

Phase three thought is the one that has potentially propelled Microsoft right to the front of battle for the living room space; the release of their new Xbox dashboard technology.  The software update has integrated Bing search services directly into Microsoft’s favoured Metro style tiled interface and also allowed ‘apps’ to be downloaded and ran directly on the Xbox (providing you’re also an Xbox Live Gold customer – which is also a little bit genius on Microsoft’s part).  Some of these applications however are movie and television content providers such as Sky, LoveFilm, 4oD, etc in the UK; using these streaming content services, it brings them directly into your living room and onto your screen through your games console!

What’s more, the Kinect with motion and voice control mean that slightly more complex tasks that Google seemed to struggle with on a remote control are simplified and able to be achieved within an overall package.  The current price for an Xbox is also attractive to users as it’s not a dedicated set top box, it’s also a console aimed at both serious and casual gamers.

When I first seen this demonstrated by Microsoft at CES, I pondered whether the cost of entry would be too high for most users to afford for Sky services, Zune memberships, Xbox Live Gold membership, etc.  It is still a high price to pay overall, but if technology continues along the path it seems to be on towards streaming media, there is no reason why companies such as Sky cannot unbundle their satellite subscription services and offer an ‘Internet streamed’ service only; especially if it attracts a few more customers.

The upsides for Microsoft getting this right could be huge too!  If Xbox dominates the living room space, they have already demonstrated and have in place integrations with Windows Phone services, Kinect hardware and could easily expand these same ‘Xbox Entertainment Services’ directly into Windows 8.  Interconnected devices, powered by smart software are exactly where Microsoft needs to be in the consumer space and Xbox could just be the device to do it.

I look forward to a lot more to come.

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