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Are We Days Away From MS Previewing The First Windows Phone 8 Major Feature?

Today Microsoft’s official blog hosted a post titled “Xbox: Now That’s Entertainment” where they talk about how the Xbox has moved from a strictly gaming machine to a full time entertainment and media device. In fact, they note that 40% of all Xbox activity is unrelated to video games. Here’s how they talk about it and then we can tie in our trusted phones:

Put simply, Xbox = entertainment and is core to our entertainment strategy. Around the world, the Xbox connects more people to online content and communities through the largest screen in the house than any other device. And as the console has evolved, it’s stayed true to its core while adding more and more experiences. Today, there is no better gaming experience in the world. Immersive games, sports games, games where you are the controller, games where you talk to your friends, games where you talk to the console, games that get you into shape, that make you laugh, that let you take a picture and share it with friends. Games that extend to your Windows 7 PC and your Windows Phone 7…and, of course, other devices to come…

The vision for Xbox is straightforward: All of the entertainment you want. With the people you care about. Made easy. That is why you’ve seen us invest in partnerships with ESPN, Netflix and Hulu. That is why we’ve baked social directly into the experience with Xbox LIVE – connecting gamers, friends and families across the globe. That is why you’ll see Xbox marketed more as an entertainment brand this year. And that is why we’re investing so much in Natural User Interface technologies (speech, touch, gestures) to make the entertainment experience that much easier—and more fun. With Kinect, we’ve made NUI real for millions of people, and we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible.

Now we know that Windows Phones already promote the Xbox brand but there’s more coming to the table. The blog post ends by stating that what Microsoft has slowly been simmering for years in the Xbox pot will “be boiling over during a 90-minute event’” that is on Monday. It looks like it’s time for them to shift Xbox into a more diverse band name that stands for an entertainment portfolio and not just a gaming console. Mary Jo Foley speculates that they’ll be debuting an offering codenamed Orapa. As she noted back in March:

Orapa, in development now, is going to be a combination of Xbox Live and Microsoft’s Mediaroom IPTV, from what I’m hearing. It would give Microsoft a way to turn TV into a service that it could deliver to Xbox customers first, and Windows, Windows Phone and set-top-box customers, later.

Orapa will enable the mash-up of Mediaroom features, Xbox Live social features (like avatars and recommendations), Kinect sensing capabilities, and some of those forthcoming Ventura music/video services…

Via Orapa, Mediaroom users would be able to use Kinect’s gesture and voice controls to control their TV watching. Xbox users would get more content on their consoles.

This isn’t all pie-in-the-sky stuff, according to my contacts. Microsoft is shooting to get Orapa out by holiday 2011, my sources say, via Mediaroom operators. If the Softies stick to schedule, that would mean a test preview build would be out in March 2011, and RTM would happen this summer.

So we’re talking about a combining Xbox and your TV with all of your media and social networking into one integrated bundle. This would be a convergence of Microsoft’s media offerings into one.  So where do all roads lead? This is preparing for their next cycle. Xbox 360 is here to stay (until 2015 say the rumors) so the next few years are more about software and integrated services than they are about hardware (well now that Kinect is out). The integration between Xbox and Windows 8 is definitely going to tighten with an integrated app store, social services meshing between the two and of course, communications (yup Skype) being integral across their screens.  If Microsoft is going to debut Orapa in a week then they are rumored to have a release by the holidays. This can be somewhere between a large software upgrade to Xbox but I’d suspect there will be an Xbox branded cable box that will dual with Google tv but in a massive way. And finally we come to phones.

It is going to take almost a year for Microsoft to move from Windows Phone 7 to Mango. It seems like they have lots of things they are continuing to work on from full Skype integration, NFC, etc and of course, in the mix there are rumors of more Xbox and Windows Phone integration. Some of this has already been completed but it doesn’t sound like we’re getting real time playing at this time. So that’s something Microsoft is still working on. And I’d suspect that Orapa is in that category. Similar to IE9, Microsoft is most concerned about getting the code on their core platform. In that case it was PC and then Windows Phones will utilize the same core but about 6 months later. If Microsoft is delivering an integrated Xbox experience by the holidays then Windows Phone integration is likely months behind. So we’re talking about Windows Phone 8 here. And I’d speculate that the level of integration is that your phone will work like a Kinect of sorts, allowing you to tightly control your tv and media on your large screen from your device and possibly even shifting services between the devices so you can toggle screens based on location effectively and stream directly to your phone. Remember, this isn’t around the corner so even if Microsoft is releasing Orapa, that’s six months from being released and assuming the Windows Phone team is working on integration during the next six months, it’s at least another 6 months until they tie it together with new hardware (like front facing cameras).

Yeah, lots of speculation for what may not be announced in a week. I hear ya. But if XboxTv is not next, I think we all know it’s in the pipeline so as usual with Microsoft it’s a question of ‘when’ more than anything.

What say you?