When XBMC shifted to Linux, OSX, and Windows, it took with it video playback, music playback, and pictures from the Xbox. And it left behind games and opening other applications. With the announcement of XBMC for Android, we finally get all that back again.
Let me back up a moment.
In all this excitement about XBMC for Android, I get the impression that most authors are pumped about the possibilities of XBMC on cheap devices, but are missing out on something much more fundamental. XBMC can provide the best 10 foot user interface for Android… in the world.
Android UI Realities
To put it simply, Android sucks on anything that isn’t touch based. You are presented a huge list of items in a grid with maybe a few widgets littering the screen. You have to navigate using a mouse or some other alternative to your finger. And from 10 feet away, you have to somehow see what all those app icons mean without any hope of
en-biggening embiggening* them.
*Thanks to user gilles_duceppticon for providing the correct way to spell this made up word!
On top of that, the standard Android UI acts as if everything you might like to do in front of a TV on your couch is of equal importance. You don’t have quick access to a list of your TV shows or movies or TV guide. You don’t have easy access to your music catalog. It’s all just indistinguishable app after indistinguishable app. One of the great moves made by MS with the Windows Phone 7 was to present ACTIONS on the home screen, rather than apps. They called them tiles, but the idea was to let a user click on an action he wanted to perform, rather than clicking on the app he wanted to perform the action in.
It’s a minor distinction, but an important one to make, because that’s exactly how XBMC works. The XBMC home screen presents actions. We don’t ask, “Do you want to open DVDPlayer?” We ask, “Do you want to watch a movie or view live TV? Do you want to listen to music or view a slide show or open an application that doesn’t neatly fit into one of our built in Media Center categories*?”
*At this very moment, Jonathan Marshall is working on a new way to come up with new user created actions for the home screen called “nodes.” As of the May dev cycle, if you are handy with xml files, you can already create new nodes for your video files. With luck, we should see this new power extended to home screen nodes in the next few months.
The XBMC Switcheroo
XBMC is simply 100% better at the 10-foot UI space than stock Android. So from a user perspective, wouldn’t it make sense if we could drop the Android UI altogether and replace it with the XBMC UI, the same way you could replace the default Xbox 1’s dashboard with XBMC? Of course it would. Which is why, on the Pivos XIOS DS at least, that’s exactly what you will be able to do.
In speaking with both Scott Davilla and Cory Fields, the story comes clear that XBMC for Android is a very different beast than XBMC for iOS. In particular:
- XBMC for Android will allow users to boot directly into XBMC
- XBMC for Android can launch Android apps
- When the launched Android app is closed, the user will be returned to XBMC
- When the Pivox XIOS box is turned on and begins booting, the boot screen is user changeable and can even show animations!
So basically, a person using XBMC for Android never even needs to know that they are using Android! It can be one uniform, clean experience from boot up to shut down. And with root access courtesy of Pivos, they can customize that access any way they like. You could literally boot with an XBMC Brony image and get Bronied all the way until the cows came home! Or ponies! Fluttered!
XBMC Platforms Compared – In Brief
In this way, XBMC for Android almost automatically becomes the single best version of XBMC. Consider: in Linux and on Windows the boot process is slow and starts with an ugly BIOS screen. On OSX, iOS, and Windows, users are forced to see, if only for a moment, the underlying OS before getting presented with XBMC. On iOS users have to deal with jailbreaking and various updating issues. Across platforms, launching apps is a tedious process that requires installing an addon and defining a number of confusing commands that vary based on OS and application. And shutting down can be slow, time consuming, and confusing.
In fact, the only version of XBMC that never had any of those problems was the very first version of XBMC: Xbox Media Center.*
*XBMC4Xbox for the kids in the audience.
On XBMC4Xbox, you could launch videos, music, pictures, programs, and games, all from the same XBMC dashboard. You could boot up with a really cool boot video. Shutting down took only a couple clicks. Once the Xbox was hacked, you never had to worry about constant sneak updates from the internet. Honestly, there were only two really huge problems with the Xbox. 1st, you had to hack it to get XBMC running. 2nd, it simply could not play HD video (and certainly not h.264 L4.1 HD video).
XBMC for Android can match every listed quality of XBMC for Xbox and finally supersede it by coming pre-rooted (in the case of the XIOS DS) and by easily managing to play Bluray quality video.
In fact, the only negative comparison I can find in relation to the original Xbox is that the XIOS cannot play MS Xbox 1 video games. I guess that’s a little sad. But that can be mitigated by the wealth of Android games and emulators in the Android Play store. Plus, since Android supports the OnLive gaming cloud network, you could even play high quality PC games like Assassin’s Creed Revelations from the comfort of your couch at a quality that absolutely destroys the original Xbox in most situations, so long as your internet connection is a good one.
Forget the Xbox 360, the PS3, Plex, the Boxee Box, and every version of XBMC that has come before. If you were an ardent fan of XBMC4Xbox, the only platform on the planet with support for as many formats, as much content, and as much flexibility is this: XBMC for Android. Welcome to the future. It started last Friday.