The ouya is a new prototype for a $99 Android box that can be connected directly to a television. It surged in popularity today, gaining millions of dollars on Kickstarter where the project gets its funds. It also has deals with major gaming companies as well as Mojang to port games to it if it is successful in next year's launch. Everyone is so excited about this, so what is it?
Ouya is, as stated, a console that runs Android 4.0, the Open Handset Alliance's mobile operating system. Some have criticized it for brining a mobile system into the stationary setting of a home, but those are the people that do not understand the true power of having an android powered gaming console; I will describe the benefits in the next section. The founders wanted to go against exactly the sentiment. The founder fears that games are moving away from the TV and that the experience is just not the same anymore for a possible gamer.
A prototype is already complete with software, controllers, and all. Now the creators of the console are going to fund the production of the final version version. Take a look at the prototype software (from their kickstarter):
Neat. A game console running on Android. What are the benefits of such a device?
Well, good question. Android is open-source, meaning that programmers (for games and other apps) can find out how to best utilize the Android system in their software. Also, hobbyists from around the world can make improvements to the system, unlike the proprietary nature of almost all of the world's gaming consoles. Even the hardware specifications will be made open once the final version is released.
Another great advantage is the popularity of the Android SDK. Android has a lot going for it right now, especially with the popularity of tablets and smart phones nowadays. This means that more developers will be willing to make games and other apps for the Ouya. Not only is it a popular platform, but it is also very easy to distribute applications. Unlike, for instance, the Xbox style of game distribution, an independent developer could publish an App onto Ouya free of charge (not counting the $25 Android market license). There is a 70 / 30 cuts between the developer and Ouya, just like on the Android market.
Yet another benefit for developers is the power of the SDK and Java, which apps are built in. The android SDK covers a lot of ground, so developers don't have to spend their time re-inventing the wheel. Developers can get right to the creative part of coding.
Another huge benefit is the hackability of the console. All Android devices can be "rooted", that is gaining superuser control over your device. By default the Ouya is not rooted, but if you do decide to go root it will not void your warranty. This is highly uncommon for a company to encourage tinkering with their system. In fact, for hardware hackers there is a USB port so custom peripherals can be developed for it. The software is just as hackable, since Android is completely Open-source.
With all these perks for developers, what do the users get?
The users get the result of a happy developer. More games will be developed for this platform than any other because of the openness of the android market and Android as a whole. Also, the user benefits from buying a $99 dollar Android box with a 4-core processor and wifi (plus that USB port mentioned above). Those are good specs for the money (although I feel that the 1GB of RAM is a bit low).
Here is a picture of the Ouya controller from their kickstarter page:
For applications that do not support the Ouya controller, they have included a touchpad. This makes all applications available for Android (at least the ones that don't use phone-specific services) immediately portable to the Ouya console. Even for games that do not require a touchpad, it could be added as a new feature of the controller. It is my estimate that applications developed specifically for Ouya will still utilize the touchpad. It's not just a safety measure.
I have donated to the project, and I am trying to aid by spreading word here. Personally I do not support it for a gaming platform, but for the spread of open-source software onto the console market that has been dominated by proprietary software just about since it came about.