Microsoftâ€™s latest operating system, Windows 8, allows the software giant to serve its PC base and hook into the second-screen ecosystem. Its relevance to the first screen may be linked to the Xbox.
Featuring both a traditional desktop interface optimized for mouse and keyboard and a tile-based design geared for touch-screen control, Windows 8 is destined for two markets: the PC world, which Microsoft rules with a 93% global market share; and the rising world of non-PC display devices, where its market penetration is in the low single digits. Apple dominates that non-PC category, but there is no shortage of Windows-friendly contenders among tablets and hybrids.
Eager to extend their reach to those devices, content providers such as FX Networks, ABC News, NBC News, France 24, Monte-Carlo Doualiya and RFI have announced Windows 8 second-screen apps. Catch-up TV aggregator Hulu and on-demand streaming giant Netflix have joined the Windows 8 party, as has Sky Television in New Zealand, which released a Windows 8 app that offers program-guide and remote-recording functionality, similar to apps that it released for Android OS and Apple iOS.
Could that news from New Zealand be a harbinger? Is Windows 8 going to have much of an impact on the TV? â€œThe answer is in the short term, not so much; but in the longer term, yes, absolutely,â€ said Bill Scott, Chief Operating and Commercial Officer for EaselTV, a connected TV design and application development company.
Too-soon-to-tell is another response. â€œWe are watching reactions and market acceptance,â€ said Jim Elayan, VP Marketing and Business Development for itaas, a TV software development house. â€œI like the platform and think it is great for Microsoft, but so far our focus is still on HTML5 and the iOS/Android duopoly.â€
Noting that the Xbox, Microsoftâ€™s main TV play, already has a Windows 8 â€œMetroâ€ or tile-like user experience, EaselTVâ€™s Scott suggested a possible roadmap. â€œWe can imagine that Windows 8 Surface tablets or even Windows 8 mobiles will get plugged into TVs to some degree, and maybe Microsoft will produce some sort of Windows 8 Media Centre equivalent, perhaps with an Apple TV-like extender.â€
But manufacturers are not the only driver. Pay TV Operators also help set the agenda, choosing from among a range of options. In the UK, Microsoft (Xbox), TiVo, Samsung and LG are already in play. â€œPerhaps Skyâ€™s investment in Roku means we will have Roku in volume before too long,â€ Scott said. â€œGoogle TV will increasingly become important, along with Microsoft.â€
Scott predicted that current fragmentation among TV platforms would settle into four main groups: Apple, Android/Google TV, Microsoft and standards-based HTML. He also said Microsoft should be able to leverage Xbox development going forward.
â€œWe expect to be able to port Xbox apps to Windows 8 without too much rewriting of code,â€ Scott said. â€œWith consistency of development language, policy, process, metadata, software components and user experience convention, an Xbox app will be a significant head-start on Windows 8 development, whatever the device.â€