Xbox Companion available: can Xbox drive Windows Phone sales?

xbox companion iconAfter a few fits and starts, which probably wouldn’t have even been noticeable if it weren’t for a Major Nelson tweet promising a rollout schedule that Microsoft missed by only a few hours, the Xbox dashboard update should have reached your Xbox 360 console by now.  And as promised, a new “Xbox Companion” app for Windows Phone devices is now available through the Windows Phone Marketplace.

The Xbox Companion app allows you to use your Windows Phone to “find, learn more and control content from popular entertainment services on Xbox Live, according to a blog post by Larry Hyrb (Major Nelson):

Using the Xbox Companion app you can learn more details about the movie, TV show, music or game that is playing on your console. You can also get friend activity (friends online, friends with beacons, friends who have recently played), achievements and related items. You’ll also be able to select a search result, and launch a movie, TV show, game or app on the connected console as well as play, pause, fw, rw the playing video or music on the connected Xbox,initiate media purchase and navigate your Xbox console with Windows Phone using the Xbox Companion.

Xbox may be the one piece of Microsoft’s consumer puzzle that is well established and well liked in the marketplace, with Windows Phone, although it’s been gaining some buzz with the Mango update and the Nokia launches, still lagging far behind in smartphone sales.  Hotmail has been making a valiant effort recently to regain the foothold it once had in the consumer space, although the barn door has been apparently opened to Gmail, and it’s uncertain whether fixing problems with the service that were allowed to languish for years will have a real effect on its perception.  SkyDrive is admittedly an “also-ran” in the cloud storage space, with only 10% of American college students even considering it as a cloud storage alternative to Google or Dropbox.

Microsoft needs the consumer space to drive Windows 8 sales, as the normal cash cow for Windows, enterprise, has just moved to Windows 7 and won’t likely be rushing to upgrade again so early, especially for a brand new interface that will require lots of retraining and relearning, as well as a whole slew of new apps.  Windows 8 tablets are going to have to hit the road running, and since there just isn’t a Windows Phone install base to drive users from Windows Phone Metro to Windows 8 Metro, Microsoft is going to have to find another way to get users to consider Windows 8 over the iPad and the like.

But Xbox is on a roll.  While the latest update only dips a toe into the living room/TV controller arena, the Xbox/Bing/Kinect combination, fueled by a new Metro style dashboard,  already offers a more compelling offering than either Apple TV or Google TV.  There are 35 million Xbox Live Gold members to fuel adoption, and a Companion app, allowing Windows Phones to become part of the living room/TV/Xbox experience may help to change perceptions about the phone, sell a few more devices, and get the world ready for a Windows 8 Metro style invasion.