Busting Down Walled Gardens
While users complain about mobile's walled-garden approach, game companies have been doing this for years. Since 1994 the PlayStation brand has been its own locked-in little universe of fun. Sure the latest PlayStation Vita handheld has a Facebook and Twitter app, Netflix, a browser and even Skype, but the games will only play on one device, and even the users' account is aggressively locked to it.
However, game console makers have seen their sales plummet over the latest generation, battered by smartphone and tablet games. Cheap PCs that can play the latest games (on medium or low settings) and, as they've evolved to become media devices, outgunned by vastly superior media content services like Amazon and iTunes.
So, on 20 February, Sony will unveil its new next-generation console, the PlayStation 4 (code-named Orbis) packing the guts of a high-end custom AMD PC with a focus on stunning visuals and HD gaming. Expected to cost around $400-$500, it could be the next media hub, but in a world where the living room is already crammed with Smart TVs, TV-focused PCs (like Steambox), laptops, tablets, handheld gaming (Nvidia's SHIELD) and phones, will Sony play smart and nice with your existing gadgets or think it can get away with hiding in its own walled garden?
The Xbox Factor
Microsoft will be showing off its own next-gen console in the coming months. But, has already advanced its existing Xbox 360 console down the open road with a raft of media apps for radio, TV and video. The SmartGlass app allows Android and iPhone users to control their Xbox and we expect the next Xbox's Windows 8 look and feel will deeply integrate content and information with your Windows Phone 8 and PC.
So, when Sony unveils its next big living room toy, will it be aware of the world of content across our other devices? Will it have a browser that plays well with the latest standards, will we be able to use its might processing power for other tasks when it isn't throwing stunning effects around our HD screens?
A new console needs to be a lot of things to a lot of users if it is to succeed, merely being a games console consigns it to an ever-decreasing market. PlayStation 2 sold 150 million, PlayStation 3 has sold 70 million and might reach 100 by its end of life. By being more integrated with the other devices around our home, being better aware of the web and its services, PS4 might just stand a better chance.
As users look for the ultimate home server, streaming content to all our devices, is it something that will live under the TV, or do we still expect a proper PC to take on the role? Can one device overcome all the walled gardens to offer us a large patch of entertainment and connectivity without the stupid rules and incompatible devices?