Since the Xbox 360 launched in 2005, it has slowly evolved to keep up with the times -- a little Twitter, some Facebook and on-demand content. Now, it presages Windows 8 with a major update that adds a "Metro" interface and cloud support to become a pretty smart smart device.
King of the Couch
In one area of the consumer world, Microsoft is years ahead of Apple, putting content on the home TV. The Xbox console rapidly evolved from a gaming device, to a movie player, movie streaming service, Web radio player and more recently a social center with Facebook and Twitter apps. And, with 57 million sold around the world, it is a handy beachhead for Microsoft to push other services and products.
So, from Tuesday, 3PM UK time, 10AM Eastern 7AM Pacific, most users around the world will get their first feel of the Metro interface, as the latest Xbox update becomes available. It adopts the tiled approach from Windows Phone 7 and Windows 8 for its dashboard. Not only that, it will add a cloud storage service (just 500MB to start with) so users can log in on other devices and gain access to their own game saves and content on any machine. Microsoft is also showing off the Windows 8 app store this week, which may add further links.
iOS Gets a Look In Too
UPDATE: After the initial launch news had died down, extended in part by a 10-hour delay in the update going live, Microsoft casually dropped the news of an iOS Xbox app. The "My Xbox LIVE" app is now out and on Apple's App Store and brings your avatar, achievements and that Metro feel to the iPhone. It helps gamers keep in touch with their Xbox buddies and the latest news
Over the next year, Microsoft PCs, consoles and phones will all be using the Metro interface and be able to interact with content via the one user log-in. That's a pretty nice ecosystem right there and one that ties into the TV in a way that Apple can only dream of. Microsoft already claims some 40% of its U.S. users spend over an hour a day doing non-gaming stuff on Xbox, and this will only grow.
Xbox now has a Metro-style interface to unify with Windows Phones and Windows 8
Think Inside the Box
Media services around the world will be available in the form of apps, whereas previously they have just been services. From Netflix and YouTube to Verizon's FiOS services, BBC iPlayer, LoveFilm and Sky in Europe plus many others will be popping up, adding movies, catch-up TV and other offerings. These can be used via the usual Xbox controller. Some will have Kinect support, allowing you to use motion or voice controls, while couch potatoes can use the Windows Phone 7 Xbox app to control and manage their services.
Bing will also be added, with Kinect support, so you can ask your Xbox to search for content within the Xbox ecosystem. So, actors and musicians will get results; "the Theory of Evolution" probably won't. That shows that Microsoft is keen to make sure Xbox doesn't leech into computer territory just yet.
All this leaves is for Microsoft to launch the XboxNext or Xbox720 console sometime in the next two to three years, at which point we can probably expect a device that will sync content between computer, console and phone out of the box, bring the full Internet to your TV and much more.
However, due to the vast expense in releasing a new console, Microsoft will be looking to expand the current version's lifespan as much as possible, and updates, apps, better Web experiences and Internet access could see it selling well for several more years.