There have been plenty of gaming hardware projects based on Android, but none so ambitious as the Ouya (pronounced "OOO-yah"). AFP reports that some big names are working on it, including the Xbox's co-designer and the former "principal product manager" of the Amazon Kindle. And with Swiss designer Yves Behar of One Laptop Per Child fame on board, the Ouya's proposed design looks sort of like a Nintendo GameCube made in the world of Tron.
When will it be available? Over 10,000 people are being given the opportunity to buy theirs now, if they want; $99 will get them a console and a single controller. The console won't be available until March, though, so it's sort of a like a presale crossed with a bake sale, except without the pastries. It's up on Kickstarter right now, with incentives available from the $10 level to the $10,000 level. And at just a little over $100,000 short of their $950,000 goal as of the time of this writing - after less than a day - it looks like Ouya's got just a little bit more momentum than most homebrew projects.
So, wait. What can this console do now?
It'll play Android games, including Shadowgun and Minecraft. There are a ton of HD gaming titles already available in the Google Play store, and many of those will be coming to Ouya.
Many, but not all, of them?
The Ouya uses the open-source code for Android, but it isn't being made in partnership with Google. So it doesn't have access to the Google Play store (or Amazon's Kindle "Appstore", for that matter). It'll have its own marketplace of games instead.
So what will make this marketplace better than Google Play?
First, a lot of big-name developers have already announced their support for (and excitement over) the Ouya, including Notch (the creator of Minecraft). Second, because the games will all be on your TV set, or whatever display you plug the console into. And third, because they'll all be free.
OK, how does this "free games" thing work?
It's more of a marketing gimmick than anything else. Your "free" game can be a demo version, or it can be one of those free-to-play-but-pay-for-the-upgrades kind of games. It's an unusual approach to take, though, to require all the games to be free to download. And there will supposedly be apps available too - the Ouya is being designed to be very developer-friendly and hobbyist-hackable, even though it'll also be just a straightforward game console for people who don't want to get their hands dirty.
Is this just going to be about playing phone games on my TV?
The Ouya Kickstarter page insists that "OUYA was not created merely to host ports of existing Android games." And the team behind it is reaching out to developers, to show them what Android can do with a controller and HD display.
When is it being released again?
March of 2013 is the date given on Ouya's page. A hardware prototype already exists, and the product just needs to be "finalize[d]".
Given that they don't know for sure what will happen between now and March, it may or may not actually ship then ... but if it doesn't, it won't be for lack of funding at this rate.
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.