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Will Microsoft lead the charge to bring apps to video game consoles?

Welcome to the app economy. Next stop, video game consoles.

A new advertisement by Microsoft suggests that applications running on its proprietary Silverlight framework are headed to the XBox 360 — a feature that’s certainly been a long time coming.

Video game consoles are becoming increasingly popular as media centers, rather than just being used to play video games. Pretty much every console already carries Netflix’s streaming video service. Most offer Facebook and Twitter connectivity. And with its newest controller, the Kinect, the XBox 360 dashboard is turned into a kind of futuristic launchpad that owners can navigate using just their voice.

Televisions are also becoming more open to an app ecosystem. On top of a line of “smart” TVs, there are products like Google TV and Apple TV that will sport applications (Apple doesn’t do that just yet). The development community is still in its infancy, and it isn’t clear whether it will take off. But given the popularity of the app ecosystem on mobile devices, it’s pretty likely.

The next logical step would be to introduce an app development ecosystem to a media center that is basically screaming for it. There are already development communities for independent video games that don’t fly under the banner of the larger publishers like Activision-Blizzard and Electronic Arts. The XBox 360 dashboard is a particularly slick media center that could be made much better with the inclusion of independently developed apps.

Microsoft’s Silverlight app development framework is already in place on Windows Phone 7. Microsoft has also said there will be a high level of connectivity between Windows Phone 7 and XBox Live. That means it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to see applications on Windows Phone 7 popping up for the XBox 360 dashboard because it’s run on the same development infrastructure.

The video game console is a dominant piece of the living room already. Microsoft’s move is pretty timely, now that a number of other companies trying to find their way into the living room. Slapping applications onto the media center would all but secure its presence as a necessary device plugged into home televisions. This would give Microsoft the jump on other consoles as well — particularly with the advantage the Kinect brings to its media center.


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