Microsoft’s new Smartglass app transforms a user’s tablet, PC or smartphone into a tool that allows them to experience games, movies and TV shows at a whole new level of interactivity.
The Redmond, Wash.-based company’s new app, revealed yesterday at gaming and entertainment expo E3, connects a user’s Windows 8 PC, Android and iOS devices to their Xbox 360 sets, opening them up as another hub for content. The company’s goal is to turn customers’ tablets and smartphones into “an intelligent companion that pulls you deeper into the experience.”
What makes Smartglass so powerful is its ability to know exactly what a user’s 360 is doing. Whether someone is playing a game or watching a movie or TV show using one of the system-supported video services, Smartglass knows the exact level or scene the television is displaying. This opens up countless possibilities for interaction between the device running Smartglass and the Xbox 360.
For example, Microsoft demoed a version of “Madden” where a user’s tablet doubled as a second controller while running Smartglass. The player was able to pick and design new plays on their tablet and then run that play in the game.
In another demo, a viewer watching the “Game of Thrones” in the HBO Go app could tell the location of the characters in every scene by looking at a map of the fictional world in the show on their tablet. Meanwhile, a viewer watching “School of Rock” viewed interactive menus and blurbs about cast members in the specific scene on the TV at the same time.
The videos Microsoft showed were not finished products, but they represent some of what’s possible for developers once they get their hands on Smartglass. If movie and TV content providers embrace the technology, and Microsoft claims many already are, the Xbox 360 could become the ideal device for entertainment, offering unprecedented interactivity. Many viewers are already watching TV and movies with a laptop nearby or a smartphone or tablet in their hand, making the connection between the system and their devices seamless.
As for games, if Smartglass can truly work as a secondary controller like Microsoft showed in the Madden demo, one truly has to wonder what is so special about Nintendo’s Wii U. Rather than working on new hardware with an expensive controller people will have to buy all over again, Microsoft is still operating with its nearly seven-year old system and doing the same thing by incorporating devices that most of its customers already own.
Smartglass is a good way for Microsoft to make some headway in the mobile market and help make Windows 8 even more attractive as well. Even though the the app will be available for Android and iOS as well, Microsoft will likely show it off as one of the key features in its mobile phones and Windows 8 computers later this year, letting those devices connect to a big ecosystem of content. Being the innovator behind this new technology also helps the company’s image in the mobile space, as it fights for market share with Google and Apple.
It may take time for the true potential of Smartglass to shine, but analysts believe the app’s launch could coincide with the Wii U’s launch to store shelves. Once content providers and developers have some time to use it as a tool to improve movies, TV and games on Xbox, Microsoft could have a technology that is not only equal to the Wii U’s Gamepad in gaming possibilities, but more complete in its ability to bridge into the world of entertainment.
Smartglass is an ambitious idea from Microsoft with a lot of potential, now it’s just a matter of whether the company can get developers and content providers on board to capitalize on it.