Microsoft's interactive TV business
Microsoft's Tom Gibbons, a member of the Windows Phone team since 2009, and previously head of Microsoft Hardware business (makers of some very successful keyboards and mice) has recently been repurposed. His job title inside MS is now "corporate vice president of TV and Service Business within Microsoft's Interactive Entertainment Business." His responsibilities include "driving subscriptions usage and global partnerships" for this business unit, using the fact that he's "experienced in hardware, software and consumer product development."
Gibbons is, to put it bluntly, a hardware guy. While at the Windows Phone team, he's reported to have led the group that came up with the hardware reference designs for Win Phone 7 handsets--and his experience at the Hardware business unit speaks for itself.
All of this has the tech world pondering one question: Is Microsoft planning an assault on the Net-connected TV game? There have been rumors about this since late last year, and the fact that the company's been making some success with its Xbox content interface and Media Center systems certainly adds to the intrigue.
Apple's AirPlay licensing deal
Meanwhile, Apple may be planning to license its AirPlay technology to "electronics makers" that could use it to stream movies, TV content, and user-recorded video into TV sets directly, without needing a connected Mac or wired-up iPad, according to Bloomberg. At the moment, Apple only licenses its technology to connected device makers for streaming audio, not video, and collects a $4 licensing fee from every audio product sold.
Expanding that license to video-connected devices would enable Apple to reap a huge new revenue stream. TV makers will be keen to incorporate the Apple tech for a number of reasons: TV makers know Apple's iPad and iPhone are hot sellers, and they are powerful systems for collecting video content that's recorded by users or downloaded or streamed through services like Netflix. By advertising their TV sets as "Apple AirPlay ready" TV makers could easily attract more clients, and probably charge a slight premium.
The system would sidestep the existing Apple TV project, which Apple still deems to be a mere "hobby," but it would get Apple-specific technology into millions upon millions more devices, which could turn into an incredibly useful ecosystem for Apple to promote its future media plans for music, TV, and video. Plus, with video streaming enabled in the right way, it could be a vehicle for Apple to get its thousands of iOS games onto the big screen in people's homes--with iPhones or iPads as sensor-equipped games controllers. Apple's already made small moves in this direction with its HDMI connection kit for the iPad 2.
Above all else, if these devices do start arriving on the market by the end of this year, as the insiders promise, it could put to rest the "Apple is making a TV" rumors that have swirled for years.
A tale of two TVs
So we have Microsoft possibly gearing up to inject its software, hardware, and computing know-how into a real physical TV, and Apple potentially licensing its tech to third-party TV makers to place its iOS technology at the heart of the entertainment system of many consumers who own an iPhone or iPad.
Google and Yahoo have already made plays for their own versions of Net-connected TVs, but neither has quite the long, legendary experience in the hardware market that Microsoft has. Recent rumors suggest some TV makers have deemed Google's offering as unsuccessful and see Android as a simpler UI for the system. Meanwhile, Yahoo's Connected TV is said by some to be successful, but it's recently had to delay the widget store that offers access to third-party apps. And, circumstantially, how many folks do you know who have a Yahoo TV?
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