Recently, I’ve written about the OnLive micro-console posing a challenge to the Big Three (Xbox360, PS3 and Wii), and Microsoft’s bid to revolutionize the way we interact with consoles altogether with Kinect. These are both signs of technology’s irreversible march forward. We could look back at the coleco-vision and pinball machines to see how far electronic entertainment devices have come, from a button and a dial to… nothing at all, via the multi-button monstrosities we’re grasping onto today. The controls also meant the games became more involved, more detailed, if not more nuanced. The hardware has become more robust, more flexible. That flexibility has broken another barrier some of the first consoles aimed to overcome: consoles aren’t just for gaming anymore.
You’ll recall I wrote about how the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Marketplace were opening new avenues for independent game makers to reach their audience. Well, as I’m sure some of you will have already noticed, games isn’t the only thing available there.
Here we have to step back and look at the whole board for a second. On one hand, we’ve seen how consoles have become more powerful and capable. On the other, we have also seen how the internet has grown from something only the tech-savvy cared about into a seemingly omnipresent and ephemeral layer of our reality. Every single human activity that takes place in any place with a modicum of civilization will plug into the internet in some way, minor or not. Now that it’s there, it’s very difficult to see how we would do without it. William Gibson, it seems, had it right.
The internet used to be a realm only computers could take us to, back when it was more like a separate country rather than part of the air itself. Now that isn’t true, at least not the way we understood it. As it turns out, our phones became computers, and by doing so, they took the internet off our desks and into our pockets. The closest analogy to what the latest wave of smartphones can do is the TriCorder, a device that had nigh-magical capabilities. Our phones can now analyze snippets of sound and tell you the title of a song that was playing on someone else’s radio. That same phone can even pinpoint your location in the world within a few feet. As a matter of fact, my phone, which isn’t anything special, can tell when I’m in the kitchen or the living room. So, Star Trek had it right too.
The way that it all works is dizzyingly complex, but there are three main components to everything I’ve mentioned: 1. The Device. 2. The Software, and 3. The Internet. Now, how does this relates to consoles? Much like, say, cats and dogs, phones and consoles are devices that share a distant common ancestor, possibly the light bulb, from which they evolved. However, unlike cats and dogs, consoles and phones have evolved on divergent evolutionary paths, but now they’re converging. Consoles are Devices, which are programmable with Software they can download from the Internet, just like phones.
As I was saying before, consoles aren’t just for gaming anymore. If you have an Xbox 360 you can look at that’s connected to the internet, you’ll see a dozen services you could access, such as Netflix. Netflix, as a service that tries to provide movies and T.V. episodes to its subscribers, has made the following discovery: bandwidth is cheap, shipping is expensive, and DVDs break. So you can watch Netflix’s “watch instantly” catalogue from your consoles, devices which, conveniently enough, were already connected to your T.V.. Netflix is only one of the services that have popped up in the last five years that provide things like music, books, social interaction, and even phone service. Consoles can access all of that, with the right software of course, and offer it to you while you’re sitting in your living room.
Like with any other kind of evolution, you’ll end up with some platypus creatures, such as phones that you can plug into your T.V., or T.V.s that can post updates on twitter. Right now, consoles are poised to replace, for example, the cable-box. Why would we need that, if we already have a console that can provide everything it did, and better? What about the radio, for those who still use one? Or your home phone? Why would you need any of these things if your Xbox 1080 (or whatever it’ll be called) can do all of that, and whatever else we can come up with? Perhaps, we’ll prove Tron right too.
We’ve gone from a button and a dial, to fourteen buttons and two dials, and just a month ago, to none. Evolution is happening before our very eyes. The future, despite whatever anyone has said before, is now.