Microsoft this week released its Xbox Companion App for Windows Phone 7.5, which can be used as a remote control for your Xbox 360-based entertainment, and as a mobile hub for discovering more about all of the content that can flow through this console, including games, TV shows and movies, and music.
As I noted the other day, Microsoft this week released an Xbox Companion App for Windows Phone 7.5, which combines the latest versions of two of its key platforms in interesting if ineffective ways. As you probably know, Windows Phone already includes deep integration with Xbox LIVE via its Games hub, providing Windows Phone users with a way to manage their Xbox LIVE profiles on the go and view and compare game information between them and their friends. (An iOS version of this functionality was also coincidentally released this week as the My Xbox LIVE app for iPhone and iPad.)
But what the heck is the Xbox Companion App?
While this app does have some games-related functionality, it's got a broader mission. That is, can be used as a remote control for your Xbox 360-based entertainment, but also as a hub for discovering more about all of the content that can flow through this console, including games, TV shows and movies, and music.
I'm guessing it's going to get a little more interesting when Microsoft's many entertainment industry partners come on board with their Internet TV offerings on the 360 later this month and then throughout early 2012. For now, however, I'm unimpressed. And you'd be better off navigating the Xbox 360's new user interface--the Fall 2011 Dashboard Update--with a traditional remote control, like the new Xbox 360 Media Remote pictured below. It's just $20 at Amazon.com.
This app is laid out like a traditional multi-pane Windows Phone app, with screens for Home, Featured, and Bing. When you're actually playing content on the console--music, or a TV show or movie--the app switches into a terrible touch-based remote.
Here's what you get.
This screen displays the item that is currently being accessed on the console and then a Quickplay list that corresponds to the Quickplay item in the Home hub of the new console Dashboard. That current item can be a game, like Modern Warfare 3, an app, like Zune Marketplace or Netflix, or content, such as a TV show or movie. By tapping the item, you can sometimes learn more information about that item. But not always. If Zune Marketplace is the current item, for example, the screen just says "Overview: Zune". That's it.
When this works, however, it can be interesting. Play a TV show episode on the console and a "discover more" link appears on the phone, perfect for you incorrigible multitaskers. This link provides an overview of the video and bottom-mounted software navigation controls so you can play/pause, rewind, forward, and so on.
If you select an item from the Quickplay menu, it will launch that game's hub on the console. This hub will let you play the game (assuming the disk is in the drive if it's a retail version), install the game to the console's hard drive, and so on.
The Featured screen works like a cross-content listing of featured items, and in its current guise it's a mix of video-heavy TV shows, movies, music, and games.
Each item is a graphical tile and can be tapped, leading to a sub-screen that generally amounts to "play on your console." Tapping this link almost never actually plays anything on the console, however. Instead, the console navigates to the hub for that item. Do so for a movie, like "Cowboys and Aliens," and you'll see choices for buying and renting the movie, watching a free preview and other free promotional content, and then related items, like the movies "3:10 to Yuma," "District 9," and several others.
Music items provide a similar screen on the phone, with Overview and Artist pages, and the same "play on your console" link. For games, it's Overview, Friends (a list of any friends that are playing that title at the time), Achievements, Images (screenshots of the game), and Related (similar games on Xbox 360 and Windows Phone).
Tied to the new Bing search functionality in the Fall 2011 Dashboard Update for Xbox 360, this page provides a way to search your Xbox and Xbox LIVE for content, and it provides some sample search choices ("Grand Theft Auto," "The Office," "Zune," and so on) as hints. Basically, if you want to use your voice for searches, you'll need a Kinect, but with Windows Phone and this app, you can perform searches on the device using the virtual keyboard and then, when you find something you want, trigger an action on the console.
As an example, I searched for "Harrison Ford." The search results appear on the phone, not on the console, and include a number of interesting content types: "Apocalypse Now Redux" (a movie), LEGO Indiana Jones 2 (an Xbox 360 game), "The Fugitive" (another movie), and the like. (Oddly, the most recent Harrison Ford movie, "Cowboys and Aliens," was nowhere near the top of the list, despite its current prevalence elsewhere on the console and in this app.)
I was intrigued by the LEGO game choice, so I tapped that first. As you might expect, it provides the same multi-screen hub of information on the phone as do links from the Featured section, and the same "play on your console" link.
Select a movie and there's plenty of additional material, including cast and crew and related movies in addition to the standard overview. You can also sometimes see multiple "play on your console" links, intriguingly, a clue to the future of this service. In the case of "Apocalypse Now Redux," for example, there are two choices: Zune Marketplace and EPIX. On the former, you can purchase the movie (1440 Microsoft Points for HD or 800 for SD). On EPIX, a paid video on demand streaming service similar to Netflix but tied to cable TV providers, you can simply add the movie to your queue and stream it live.
I'm not overly impressed with this app, I guess, but like the Apple Remote app for iPhone before it, I suppose it will appeal to those who are overly enthusiastic about combining two of their favorite technologies from the same company into one weird, two-screen solution. But again, a dedicated remote is preferable for this kind of console-based content navigation, and even a standard Xbox 360 controller would do in a pinch. I'll examine the Bing/Kinect integration bits in a future article, too, of course.