Apple, Nintendo and Microsoft — Who’s Going to Provide Us with the Social Living Room?

As the rumors of an Apple-based television set begin to pick up credibility, there is the sense that consumers are in the midst of some sort of strategic maneuvering, with all targets set on our living rooms.  The question is, who’s trying to take over our living room and what are they going to do with it?  I take a look at three of the major options.


1.  Nintendo Wii U

The Nintendo Wii U is Nintendo’s latest offering, which offers a tablet as the controller of the system.  Including a stylus, bluetooth, motion controller and touch sensitivity, the controller is essentially an iPad with console style joysticks and buttons on the side.  One of the features Nintendo is emphasizing is the fact that you can pull the video game off the TV and on to your controller.  So the idea is that if you’re sitting in your family room and playing video games, and someone else wants to use the TV, you can transfer the game to your controller seamlessly and just play on your own.

Where the device gets interesting is that it offers all sorts of social features like video chat between friends, browsing the web and using social networks.  You can also share a video from your device to the television so others in the room can use it.  Pretty cool stuff. Take a look at the video below.

Nintendo can be argued to be some of the most creative game makers in the world.  While Zynga copies existing games and Sony empowers their developers and publishers to push the genre on cinematic experiences, Nintendo has constantly changed the paradigm of gaming with an emphasis on fun.  I think of an interview with Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of the Mario Bros franchise, where he discussed how he took simple motions that were fun, and brought them to the world of games.  I imagine Nintendo may have some cool new social experiences ready with the Wii U.

The opportunities they’ve envisioned with the Wii-U are spellbinding, but the thing is, it’s not hard to reproduce.  An Apple TV plus iPad, an Xbox plus Tablet.  These may all be able to accomplish the same things.

2. Apple

So what’s the big difference between an iPad and an Apple TV in your living room versus a Wii U and a Wii U tablet controller? Well first of all, the price. An iPad runs you $600 and it would surprise me if the Apple TV ran for anything less than $1200. The Wii U with one controller would never be more than $500. It likely will be closer to $400. But Apple is Apple, and people are already buying iPads.  The question will be whether they want to get the hottest TV on the planet (assuming a Steve Jobs-less Apple can deliver a TV with panache) or just stick with what they’ve got.  I imagine we’ll see a splitting of the consumer base based on price point.

Another key factor is Apple’s integration — Nintendo’s already planning all sorts of unique experiences such as games that use separate screens to their advantage.  What will Apple have?  Well, for one thing, they already have a legion of dedicated app developers who will likely pile in as soon as the TV is launched.  And we can already see that Apple is playing with the idea of sharing a video to your TV — in fact I can already do this with my current Apple TV box and my iPad.  Imagine if the TV was actually an Apple device.  I may be able to simply browse the web on the TV using my iPad without much effort.  Pretty cool stuff.

3. Microsoft

The third runner here is Microsoft.  I remember years ago when I saw the Microsoft Table, a fantastic concept where we could use our hands to control the table, share videos and even have our devices analyzed.  Alas, for all that research and development work, Microsoft has produced almost nothing concrete on the mobile or touch screen front — those concept videos are just guesswork.  Their best work has come from the XBox team, which is somewhat insulated from the rest of Microsoft and what I imagine to be a whole lot of bureaucracy.

And that team has really done a great job.  With a lot of hard work, they’ve now got 67 million XBox 360s in people’s houses, and a lot of those have voice-recognition abilities thanks to the power of Microsoft Kinect.  So what does this mean for the living room?  Well, if Microsoft takes Nintendo or Apple’s lead and comes up with a tablet or a new console with a tablet controller, they’ve got the advantage of the Kinect technology.  The ability to wave my hands around and talk to my console seems wild, but as can be seen in this video below, there are still a lot of ideas that Microsoft has up their sleeve with the Kinect.

The key to the living room experience is barrier to entry, otherwise the system will be occupied by only hardcore gamers.   I think Microsoft has got a head start on that and the Wii-U doesn’t seem to have a “Kinect” feature.  That said, Nintendo always pulls through with innovative game making.  Apple is the big question mark — if they get enough app developers to create hardcore content, they may steal the rug out from under the others.

Overall, it’s going to come down to a variety of factors including speed to market, quality of software and price.  Who’ll come out on top for the social living room?