“We’re at a tipping point with connected devices,” a recent blog post from Microsoft Microsoft‘s Internet Explorer team reads. “Every day, 3.6 million mobile devices and tablets are activated worldwide. That’s over five times more than the number of babies born each day!” They’ve got a point, but it is a sad irony for Microsoft that so few of those mobile devices run their software.
But Microsoft has sold more than 70 million Xbox 360s and has a very TV-centric followup, the Xbox One, coming in November. As Forbes.com contributor Tristan Louis points out in today’s post on Smarter TVs, ”the upcoming battle for the living room is a chance to redeem itself and turn its fortune around.” The parody video that Louis refers to shows all of the instances of the words “TV,” “television,” “sports” and “Call of Duty” in the launch announcement. Although the announcement raised the ire of hard core gamers, the emphasis on TV (and perhaps the two things TVs are most used for, watching sports and playing Call of Duty) must have been highly intentional.
Games have been Microsoft’s route into the living room, but that strong association is now an impediment to its more generalized assault of the living room. Non-gamers are probably thinking more about the future AppleApple TV than about the Xbox as their upgrade path to interactive TV. In response to this perception, Microsoft has launched a new program called “Companion Web.” The idea is to facilitate real time interactions between different devices. And because Microsoft has no footprint to speak of in the world of mobile, they are now trying to emerge as a unifying force between iOS and Android.
The problem Microsoft is trying to solve (other than the risk of their own irrelevance) is that “the majority of sites on the web are built for only one device at a time.” The user can search for related information to what they are watching on their TV, for instance, but real time it ain’t. And content owners can make second screen experiences, but they have tended to be operating system (and sometimes even device) specific. Microsoft is after a more generalized solution that does not impose an unmanageable burden on developers.
“Regardless of who makes the device or software that powers the device, the Companion Web enables the internet to bridge the gap between these devices,” the IE blog post reads. “For developers, Companion Web represents an opportunity to reuse code that works across multiple scenarios, enabling greater reach and ways to engage an audience. For consumers, Companion Web means you’ll seamlessly move from one device to the next, interacting with your photos, videos, music, movies, television shows, files, and more.”
Companion Web would seem to be a more generalized version of the Xbox SmartGlass, which also allowed you to interact with your TV via Windows devices and select iOS and Android devices, but only on very specific games and content. The promise of the Companion Web is of a much broader range of experiences that the user could have between devices.
So far, Microsoft has released three such “Companion Web experiences” working with outside developers. I became aware of the program through Luke Wroblewski who has created a version of his Polar app that works in this companion manner with Internet Explorer. As you can see in the video below, Polar uses IE’s snap mode to assign a “sidebar” portion