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Microsoft Wants Developers To Start Creating The “Companion Web”

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Your cell phone doesn’t know what you’re watching on your TV. Microsoft would like to change that. The company is launching a new initiative today, called the “Companion Web,” it says enables the Internet to bridge the gap between all the different devices we use. To that end, Microsoft recently worked with opinion-sharing service Polar to create a reference app for its vision for what these kind of apps can look like.

In Polar’s example, you connect your phone to your Windows 8 device by snapping one instance of Internet Explorer to the side of the screen while you watch a video on the rest of your display. You then scan a QR code to connect this to your smartphone (any phone will do) and share opinions about what you are watching. Your smartphone controls what you’re seeing in the sidebar on your large screen. Here is what this looks like in practice:

This example seems a bit complicated and contrived, but the overall idea that we can and should connect all of these different experiences is interesting and something we don’t see enough of today. Other examples of Companion Web services Microsoft previously work on include a DailyBurn app for using a smartphone to control workouts you view on your TV and Mix Party, a collaboration with Nokia that allowed users to collaboratively control a playlist through their phones.

As Bryan Saftler, a senior product manager for Internet Explorer developer relations, told me earlier this week, Microsoft already has some experience with this through its work with the Xbox SmartGlass app. Indeed, it’s the success of this experience that led the company to invest in this idea. Saftler believes that developers don’t currently think about all the opportunities that offering these kinds of experiences across multiple devices could provide.

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Web Companion services, in Microsoft’s view, should use reusable web-based code, which makes it easy for developers to create experiences that work across devices.

In Saftler’s view, you should be able to watch a video on your Xbox (or, in a few months, your Xbox One) and when you pull up Amazon while you’re sitting on the couch, Amazon should know that you are, for example, watching Star Trek and immediately show you some related items for purchase when you bring up the site from your smartphone. Amazon, in this case, would be looking at your metadata by tapping into a cloud-based storage hub for this kind of information.

Microsoft isn’t making any announcements about this today, but Saftler hinted that the Xbox One could offer some of these services out of the box. It’s worth noting that Microsoft is only announcing its interest in these kinds of experiences. In about two weeks, it will launch the first libraries and frameworks to turn this idea into reality.

Saftler did stress, however, that while Microsoft will obviously focus on its ecosystem, the whole idea of the Companion Web is based around web standards and that the company would welcome an open discussion with developers and other vendors about how to implement this across platforms.