The war for the family room – Part 2

With the tepid reception of the first generation of Google TV devices, the article that follows may seem too kind to Google. I ask you to suspend reality for a few minutes, and imagine that Google will, as Google often does, “try, try again”.

Recently I discussed three devices that today may not seem terribly similar. However, I believe that in the next 1-2 years, you will see these three devices, and the three companies behind them, going head to head.

  • Microsoft – Xbox 360
  • Apple – Apple TV
  • Google – Google TV

At first glance, you’re probably shaking your head saying maybe the last two have some things in common. But compare them deeper using the appendix provided below, and you’ll see the devices aren’t terribly different – and will be meeting in the middle over the coming year or two.

In the end, all three platforms provide, or could/will provide 1) Media content, 2) Applications, and 3) Games. All become “diversion in a box”. Microsoft’s is predisposed as a gaming device, Apple’s as an iTunes consumption device, and Google’s, seemingly focused on attempting to integrate the web into the television (to a content-provider limited end at this point).

There is an important differentiation I want to make here – consoles, generally, are social devices. So is the Apple TV and most content on Google TV. However I believe that there are two types of applications on consoles/media boxes – single user and multiple user.

Twitter and Facebook, though often touted as “TV Applications”, aren’t. Your Twitter feed is yours – how interesting is it to your family, really. Same with much of your Facebook feed – especially where school or work meets family. MLB At Bat on the other hand? Generally pretty multiple user – as much so as live TV of the same event would be. Many games or applications on the iPhone/iPod Touch won’t port well to an Apple TV environment – for example note-taking applications or Mahjongg, which are generally solitary applications. Instead, the applications I believe will be successful on these types of devices are social ones. Imagine a multi-user Angry Birds with iDevices (or Androids for Google TV users) as Wii-like motion-sensing remotes, or also look  at games such as Pinball Remote, which uses an iDevice for a controller and a Mac for the display – replace the Mac with an Apple TV and a television – same concept.

As Kinect moves Microsoft more into the casual games market (to date the happy spot for the Wii), the announced apps market does the same for Google TV, and a potential App Store would for Apple TV, it’s not hard to see these devices going head to head to become the center of your family room – providing you content, multi-user games, and social applications.


Xbox 360:

  • Primary role: Gaming device
  • Price: $199-$399, based upon storage and inclusion of Kinect
  • Controller: Proprietary gaming controllers, optional proprietary entertainment remote, Kinect gesture controller
  • Third-party applications: Games only, though limited “applications” have been made available (Twitter, Facebook). I anticipate this may change by 2012.
  • Content sources: Zune – subscription based music, rental based video, or purchase of music/video, Media Center PC streaming, U-verse, Netflix.
  • Live TV: Yes – Either as a Media Center Extender streaming from a Windows Media Center PC, or if you are an AT&T U-verse subscriber, it can also serve as a secondary head unit.
  • Special functionality: Gaming console, U-verse secondary box, Windows Media Center Extender
  • Limitations: No third party applications yet, cost, may not appeal to non-gamers.

Apple TV:

  • Primary role: Media pass-through device
  • Price: $99
  • Controller: Simple proprietary remote or comprehensive iPhone/iPod Touch Remote application.
  • Third-party applications: Not yet, and not announced. Anticipated in Q3CY11.
  • Content sources: iTunes store – rental based video, sharing/AirPlay from iTunes on a Mac or PC, AirPlay from iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch, Netflix, YouTube.
  • Live TV: No
  • Special functionality: Significant content rental availability, AirPlay streaming from iDevices, streaming from iTunes.
  • Limitations: No third party applications yet, no content purchase from device, no music purchase from device (regressions from prior version).

Google TV:

  • Primary role: Media pass-through device
  • Price: $229 and up
  • Controller: Most offer full-QWERTY keyboard controller, Android/iPhone remote application available as well.
  • Third-party applications: Limited third party applications included. No marketplace for others yet, but announced. Anticipated in Q1CY11.
  • Content sources: Live TV routed through device, but only for DISH Network subscribers, streaming video from web (if allowed by site provider – a problem to date) or Netflix or Amazon VOD.
  • Live TV: Yes – DISH Network only.
  • Special functionality: Web browser with Flash support, content search, key applications such as Pandora integrated in.
  • Limitations: No third party applications yet, cost, complexity, lack of content at the present time (artificially constrained by content providers).

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  1. […] consideration altogether. Unlike the Mac, iPhone, and iPad, the Apple TV is more often than not a multi-user device. Two or more users at a time. It also has no direct gesturing, nor is it likely to. […]

  2. […]  how it was important for purveyors of “family room devices” and app authors to understand the difference between single-user and multiple-user applications/experiences, rather than just shoving the entire […]

  3. It looks like there will be another device to add to the list although falls under Google TV. There have been rumors of a Google branded TV device called “Nexus TV”. Like the Chromecast but more of a set-top box as opposed to the small pass through device they have out now. I initially found it mentioned at