Microsoft this week revealed its plans for bridging the living room/technology gap, and unlike its strategy of the past decade, Windows and Zune no longer seem to be part of the plan. Instead, Microsoft appears to be going all-in with Xbox, via the Xbox 360 and a coming set of Xbox-oriented services that will bring television content to the living room via its video game console.
"We are in the middle of a fundamental transformation of the technology in our living rooms," Microsoft corporate communications honcho Frank Shaw notes in a posting to the company's website. "Our philosophy is pretty simple: All the entertainment you want, with the people you care about, made easy."
Easy, assuming you have an Xbox 360, that is. As Shaw also notes, the three technological pieces that Microsoft is providing to solve this problem are its console, the Kinect motion-sensing add-on, and Bing, the software giant's search engine. (Actually, Microsoft's TellMe acquisition is also prominently featured—though not mentioned—in the post.) Combined, these solutions provide an integrated experience that lets you find, enjoy, and control digital media content using a remote control, an Xbox 360 controller, your hands (via Kinect), or your voice.
In a Future of the Living Room video that accompanies this pronouncement, Microsoft Corporate VP Marc Whitten expands on this vision while demonstrating the company's Xbox-based solutions. "The problem we have today is that the technology is in the way," he says. "You really just want to find something to watch, or spend some time with your friends."
Various integrated features are demonstrated in the video, including group video viewing, live TV and on-demand functionality, sports highlights, and integration with set-top box solutions such as U-Verse and Sky Player (the latter in the United Kingdom). But the mysterious live TV mention that Microsoft made at E3 this year is still largely unexplained, though the company is expected to offer a sort of online services-based replacement for today's Media Center solution.
Various Microsoft technologies are spelled out very obviously. Bing, for some reason, gets a top-level menu item on the new Xbox 360 dashboard that will debut later this year, putting it alongside links for Social, Video, Games, Music, Apps, and others. There's an advertisement for Windows Phone, which hints at an annoying new way that Microsoft intends to monetize this endeavor. And integrated speech technology allows users to search for content that spans games, video content, and more. A search for Halo or Batman, for example, could yield game, music, and TV and movie results, for example.
"Our goal is really, really simple," Whitten says. "It's about how you make this effortless, intuitive, and delightful. And that starts by getting the technology out of the way."
Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but what's missing from this video is more interesting than what's shown.
Nowhere in this video—not once—does the word "Zune" or its logo appear. Instead, we see links for music and video, and bright, big colorful logos for third-party services like Last.FM, Netflix, and Hulu Plus. (Insiders will recognize a pink, purple, and black background in some screens that today is part of the Zune Marketplace on Xbox. But it's notable, I think, that Zune isn't shown, mentioned, or described, ever, in this video.)
Also absent is Windows. The original vision for getting content to the Xbox 360 involved accessing it from the console over the network, since it would be stored on Windows PCs, and using built-in browsing functionality or the more full-featured Media Center Connector software. Neither capability was demonstrated in this video, which will no doubt fuel rumors that Media Center, like Zune, is being phased out by Microsoft.
That said, there could be more. Shaw hints in his post that Microsoft will be "rolling out further advances in entertainment over the next few months," so it's possible that Xbox won't stand alone.