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Can the Xbox Hub Drive Demand for Windows Phone?

My 21-year-old nephew was an early adopter of the Microsoft Xbox when it came out in November 2001. Later, his pre-ordered Xbox 360 shipped in the first wave, arriving to the delight of his cousins during the Thanksgiving holiday in 2005. He has a Kinect, of course, and he still goes out at midnight sometimes to buy new games as soon as they become available.

All of that makes him far more qualified than I am to evaluate whether the Xbox Live Hub on Windows Phone is a device differentiator or not. While the subject is a little off-topic for this business-focused blog, the point is whether there's anything behind Microsoft's contention that Xbox integration between the phone and the console is one of those sleeper advantages that will eventually drive adoption. After all, there are an estimated 41 million Xbox 360 consoles worldwide. Make the experience compelling, and that's a lot of potential phone buyers.

So Friday night, I sat on my nephew's couch and handed him a Windows Phone to see what he'd make of the Xbox Live Hub on a Windows Phone. (He's a Droid user.) The Windows Phone he tried out was a Samsung Focus running Windows Phone 7.5, so it had all the latest Xbox Live features.

The Xbox Live Hub is one of those default tiles on the home screen of the Windows Phone device. It serves as the gaming center on the phone -- all mobile games from Angry Birds to Need for Speed show up there, and that's whether or not the user has an Xbox Live Gold membership (the memberships are $10 per month or $60 per year). The hub includes the Xbox Live-branded games, which implies some sort of pedigree and quality bar, but is also the repository for other games bought in the Windows Phone Marketplace.

The Hub is also where Microsoft markets and recommends new games, and there's context-aware searching and shopping for new games from within it.

Xbox

Once my nephew had worked through the predictable annoyance of remembering what his Xbox Live password was after years of being automatically signed in on his console, he got down into the console-phone integration features.

The avatar that he'd created on his Xbox appeared on the phone screen, where the avatar goofed around convincingly and engagingly among the menus. My nephew could customize his avatar on the phone if he wanted. He could see from the phone which of his 50-or-so Xbox Live friends were online or offline and view their requests and exchange messages. He could also monitor his Xbox Gold point total, as well as see how many points he'd gotten from achievements on various games going back for years.

The verdict after 10 or 15 minutes spent playing with the Xbox Live Hub on the phone? The features complement the Xbox console experience nicely, but they don't yet improve the experience in a compelling way. As my nephew put it: "It's nice. I wish I could put that on my Droid."

Microsoft is working on deeper integration between the Windows Phone as a controller for an Xbox console-based media center, as shown at about the 1-minute mark of this video. If that integration works as advertised, the case for the Windows Phone among Xbox users may improve dramatically. But for now, the Windows Phone-Xbox integrations are nice to have, not yet must have.

Posted by Scott Bekker on November 15, 2011 at 11:58 AM


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