The Ouya Android game console project has certainly turned some heads in the tech world. It set a new Kickstarter record, becoming the fastest project to hit a million bucks worth of funding. And now the device has raised over $5 million (£3.2 million), five times its initial target amount.
Ouya is being marketed as a game console for budget gamers and hackers, offering an Android backbone and a $99 (£63) price tag to people who want another option beyond the big three console makers.
Mobile gaming has come a long way, and many Android games are impressive even when compared to home console games. The Ouya could help push on that front, but that's not what makes it most appealing as a home entertainment device. When the Ouya comes out, it will at best have a few console-oriented games and a lot of smartphone and tablet games that will hopefully work with the gamepad. No matter how fast you can get developer kits to programmers, it takes time to get optimised games on a system. The PlayStation Vita is proof of that.
The Ouya caught my attention not because of what it could do for gaming, but for what the device could do for home entertainment. Specifically, it could succeed where Google TV has failed to make any real impact. Google TV had a shaky first year over in the US, blighted by expensive products and a slow trickle of devices, and that has made its future uncertain. Furthermore, Google was strangely silent about it at this year's Google I/O.
At its heart, the Ouya will be an Android device that can output 1080p video to an HDTV. It will have a Tegra 3 quad-core processor, 1GB of RAM, 8GB of storage, and run Android 4.0. It will also be easy to root. This is a sub-£100 streaming media device that could give other streaming video devices, Google TV products included, a run for their money. There are a lot of streaming media apps on Android that work great on smartphones and tablets, and they could easily work on the Ouya console. Twitch.tv has already been confirmed as a feature on the Ouya, and long-established services such as Netflix and YouTube could be put on the system with a few clicks.
Don't think about what games could be put on the Ouya. Instead, think about what smartphone and tablet apps could grace the system. Web browsers, chat clients, social networking apps, and tons of home entertainment apps could fill up the console with content that outshines any Android game. Since it has built-in Bluetooth, a wireless mouse and keyboard could turn it into the simple, powerful, full-featured Google TV box we've been waiting for, without Google TV or the clunkiness that comes with it.
Of course, this means users will have to get past Ouya's own clunkiness and how intrusive the interface will be. The ease of use of these apps depends on how open Ouya wants its own system to be, and whether it will be designed to be anything but a game loader. The root-friendliness of the Ouya will help, though. Even if the default Ouya interface is completely useless for anything but selecting games, if it's an open platform and rootable, Android developers and hackers will be able to work with the device and turn it into a Google TV-like platform. Ouya could be the first platform to host a home theatre version of CyanogenMod. An open Android device that outputs to HDTVs while having a home theatre-friendly form factor could be just what Android needs to make it big in the living room.
Before we get carried away, though, we should note that this line of thinking is very optimistic, particularly considering Sascha Segan's concerns about the legitimacy of the Ouya Kickstarter. It could become mismanaged vapourware, or an outright scam. The developers themselves are overly optimistic about how it will turn out, and even though they've accumulated five times their desired funding, there's no guarantee it will actually happen. If the Ouya system is realised, though, we could have the Android-based home entertainment plaything we've been waiting for, even without games.