Xbox throws down gauntlet to Apple TV (and Wii U) at E3

The Xbox's latest features are clearly aimed at making the Xbox 360 more living-room entertainment-friendly, which sets up a big showdown with Apple.

James Martin

Will the future of the living room come to a Microsoft-Apple throwdown? It's certainly looking like it.

LOS ANGELES--Microsoft's SmartGlass app for tablets is fascinating not just because it adds a second screen to the Xbox 360, but also because it's platform-agnostic: it'll work on Android or an iPad, it seems, just as easily as Windows. Add in Internet Explorer for the Xbox 360 and a bevy of new entertainment video apps, and it's pretty clear: the Xbox 360 is ready to take on Apple TV.

I guessed as much as far as Windows 8 on a next-gen Xbox several months ago, but it looks like Microsoft's essentially providing some of that Windows 8 experience without installing Windows 8. A smartphone or a tablet can control Web browsing or second-screen entertainment, in ways that seem reminiscent of the ways that an iPad or iPhone can work with an Apple TV.

Add in the Kinect -- which, in a lot of ways, functions like the much-rumored Siri for Apple TV -- and you have a platform that's ready to go as a very valid competitor. Heck, forget competitor: Apple's going to have to play a little catch-up.

I do have doubts as to second-screen content: Disney's Second Screen and HBO Go's enhanced interactivity for shows like "Game of Thrones" haven't been killer apps. But, it depends on the content that comes down the pike.

This second-screen strategy also brings up the question: has Microsoft just stolen some of the thunder from the Wii U, the way that the Kinect stole thunder from the Wii's motion controls? And will 2012 turn out to be the Year of the Second Screen after all?

Stay tuned.

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