Today is (or should be, at least: I never truly believe these things until I see them live) Xbox Update Day: the day gamers everywhere gather 'round their Xbox 360 gaming console to see what MicroSantaSoft has brought them this year.
I wasn't lucky enough to get into the preview program this year, but I have friends who did and they assure me the new interface is much faster than the old one. So that's good news. But they also tell me that it takes a few more clicks to pull up your Friends list. That's not such great news.
People seem to be liking the new Metro-style UI; Microsoft must be breathing a sigh of relief considering they're pushing that UI in Windows 8 and Windows Phone. Speaking of Windows Phone, today should also see the release of an app that turns your Windows Phone handset into a souped-up Xbox 360 video remote. Not only can you find and play content from it, but you can get meta data on whatever you're watching, too.
So gamers should be happy with their new toys, but the tech pundits are really excited about "convergence" since this is the upgrade that will enable various video sources via the Xbox 360, and more importantly will allow Bing to search across sources.
Like Google TV promised, remember?
So for example say you have a Hulu Plus account and a Netflix account, and you want to watch a particular TV show. Rather than go into each app to see if they have that show available, you just search Bing and it'll tell you where you can get that show. Better yet, you don't have to hunt & peck it out on a virtual keyboard using a game controller. Instead you just talk to the Xbox 360 via Kinect (assuming you have Kinect) and bam! Results are displayed and you can tell Kinect how you want to watch that content. No need to pick up a controller at any point in the process. Swanky!
The downside is that you need a Netflix account and a Hulu account and cable service through FiOS or Comcast and whatever other services your content might be on. I wonder how many people actually subscribe to more than one of these various sources. Both cable and a streaming option is probably fairly common, but I don't think we need Bing to tell us a new episode of a show is on cable, not on the streaming services.
The other, short-term downside is that today we're not getting much in the way of new services. FiOS and Comcast aren't ready to roll out their cable service to the Xbox 360 yet. HBO won't be ready until early 2012. YouTube? Not yet. Vudu? UFC? MSNBC? Later this month.
Still there's a ton of content coming and it should be really popular with people who live alone (or who have dedicated gaming stations). What's going to be really interesting is to see how this plays out when the Xbox is hooked up to the family TV in the living room. I have plenty of gamer friends who have trouble getting on the Xbox 360 for gaming time because the spouse and kids are all watching TV. Will this new convergence-friendly Xbox 360 experience mean the whole family will be sitting in front of the Xbox 360 instead of the DVR and Blu-ray player? Do we really want pop-ups notifying us that our Xbox Live friend EroticPickle69 wants to play Call of Duty while we're watching a Disney flick with the family?
I love the idea of this technology and personally I can't wait for my Xbox 360 to update so I can try it out. I'm sure people who already use the Xbox will get more enjoyment out of the system thanks to these new services. I'm less sure that people who currently ignore the household Xbox will change their habits and I think the pundits are over-stating the 'convergence' angle. Don't many of us already have smart TVs or Blu-ray players or Tivo's that offer all these services? Is searching via Bing enough to get us to switch platforms?
It'll be interesting to see what kind of impact the update really has on family viewing habits.
Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.