Last month Microsoft held an event that revealed to the world some of their plans for the future of their Windows platform and specifically what we should expect to see with the upcoming release of Windows 10.
If the prospect of virtually every man and his dog getting the OS upgrade for free in the first twelve months wasn’t enough for most punters, Windows might finally achieve the often talked goal of a cross platform ecosystem that Xbox owners will greatly benefit from.
Where SmartGlass for Xbox 360 and Xbox One gave us a taste of how your PC, phone and tablet can interact together, the new Windows 10 features are pushing integration not only with your console but also with core features of Xbox Live.
Two big additions from the Xbox perspective are cross platform chat and game streaming.
It’s been an irk of many that players were previously only able to communicate between PC and console using Xbox Live’s messaging tools. To finally be able to use voice communication will help solidify the social aspects of the platform and bring more players into the fold. Games for Windows suffered greatly from its minimalist integration with Xbox Live features so this is a welcome inclusion.
Game streaming is not anything new; PlayStation has RemotePlay, it’s a key feature of the WiiU hardware and even Steam has an implementation of it which we’ve previously discussed here. In this case it will allow any Windows 10 machine (potentially even a phone) to connect to an Xbox One and play games remotely.
Some people may question the value of such a feature but for those families fighting over a common TV this could come in handy and it is an often cited reason for the WiiU’s own functionality in this area. And if you have a portable machine like a Surface Pro, this opens up the ability to play big games without worrying about filling up the machine’s own precious disc space.
One implication of this feature is that the Xbox One controllers are likely to become the new standard on Windows 10. That’s not to say that 360 controllers won’t be supported, many still consider them the best controllers Microsoft has created, but for the sake of a consistent Xbox One experience between PC and console it makes sense that the newer hardware is supported.
But the big announcement of the day that stunned a lot of people was HoloLens, Microsoft’s augmented reality glasses that can turn any desk, wall or space into part of your Windows experience.
Now both these videos seem more dream than reality and might make people think back to those early Kinect videos that had kids scanning their skateboards or using it as a virtual fashion mirror but there are people who’ve seen it in action. That Minecraft like app you see in the video actually exists.
Though it’s never touched on in any videos, I can imagine that HoloLens has the potential to grab gamer’s (ie. Xbox) imaginations in ways that Kinect tried and ultimately failed at. Now I’m not talking about virtual reality as Oculus Rift has got that but in extending ideas that have been demonstrated in the above videos in an Xbox direction.
Imagine if Xbox One’s snapped applications were no longer constrained to the side of your TV screen but could float around it; checking out your achievements no longer means you sacrifice screen real estate in pursuit of your gaming ego. Your in game HUD, leader boards and party status are now able to remain in your vision, just not in the way of the game itself. It almost becomes a virtualized version of the IllumiRoom concept.
This is of course just me making a few guesses in that I think that the technology might be more effective in the constrained situation of a gamer sitting in front of their TV. If it can succeed in that environment, the interest will skyrocket and it will capture imaginations even more than Kinect.
In the end, Microsoft are showing both ambition and confidence in their products and how they integrate with each other. It’s been a long time coming but it is appearing to be working in a way that will make sense to those who are fully invested in the ecosystem. And with the public beta of Windows 10 still in progress there is sure to be more surprises in store in the coming months.