Noah J Nelson on Thursday, Jun. 7th
“How many times have you been watching an episode of ‘South Park’ and thought I’d like to be able to watch this on my television while hooked into my mobile device, which is being controlled by my tablet device which is hooked into my oven, all while sitting in the refrigerator?”
With these words South Park creator Trey Parker popped the bubble on the demo for Microsoft’s Smart Glass at this Monday’s press conference. It was a moment that blogs which cater to gaming’s hardcore fan base quickly immortalized. Parker serving as a champion for the snarky, anti-mainsteam gamer mindset.
Yet the last laugh is likely to be with Microsoft. We already live in a multi-device tech environment and the Redmond giant’s Smart Glass initiative is the savviest approach to bringing gaming consoles into the mix on display here at E3 this week.
The basic gist of Smart Glass is this: through the use of a free app, any mobile device you have can be turned into a control interface for your XBox. One that can display supplementary information to what’s on-screen. Watching Game of Thrones via the HBO Go app on your XBox? Your tablet follows your progress through the episode, displaying a map of Westeros so that you know exactly where Jon Snow has gotten himself in trouble this time. Wondering who the actors are in the movie you’re watching? No need to fire up IMDB, your phone can tell you who’s who with a glance. In the very scene you’re watching.
What’s been demonstrated this week goes beyond bonus content for passive entertainment.
Concept video was shown of custom plays being drawn out on a tablet for Madden. Multiplayer requests for Halo routed to the tablet screen. All this implies that some of the whiz-bang gaming features being shown with the WiiU gamepad will be able to be ported over to Smart Glass if developers are willing to take the time.
A support app for a karaoke game was shown. This allows those waiting for their turn at the mic to queue up their songs while the current player butchers Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know. (Okay: it wasn’t shown with that song, but you know its coming.) This may not seem like much, but have you ever played a karaoke game? The downtime sucks. Nor will players have to pass around the one device with the song queue. Smart Glass will support up to four devices interacting with a single XBox when it launches.
This is where Microsoft is showing off some serious savvy. Instead of limiting the Smart Glass to Windows Mobile phones and tablets they will be unleashing the tech on every platform they can. Nor will you need to own an XBox to use the service. Imagine that you showed up at your friend’s for game night. A Smart Glass enabled party game can be signed into via your own phone. You download the app and sign-up for an XBox Live account in order to play. The Microsoft rep said they will be looking at streamlining that process to make it as painless as possible so that people will do exactly that. Then you, the non-XBox owning casual gamer, will have a gamer tag of your own on your friend’s XBox. Moreover: you’ll be part of the Micorsoft ecosystem.
If iTunes was Apple’s trojan horse into the PC world that helped pave the way for an expansion Mac sales and their dominance of the music sales, Smart Glass could be Microsoft’s own tool of consumer conditioning. The whole interface is based on Microsoft’s “Metro” design aesthetic that is carried across Windows 8, Mobile and XBox Dashboard. It looks great, is highly intuitive, and by having a consistent look and feel across entire classes of devices can be a massive influence on the way consumers think about how computer interfaces SHOULD work. It won’t get anyone to run out and get a Windows Phone right now, but when they’re looking to upgrade in a year to two? Why not pick the phone that works just like your tertiary XBox Controller?
On top of all that Smart Glass finally gives Microsoft a tool that makes Internet Explorer on the XBox something other than a nightmare prospect. The mobile device can work as a touchpad controller for navigating webpages, complete with pinch and zoom, and convert into a keyboard for data input. This is also great for gamers, who are often confronted with codes they have to input in order to unlock free content, and then have to struggle with the sluggish nature of an on-screen keyboard. That upgrade alone is going to fuel a ton of Smart Glass downloads.
After about a decade worth on an identity crisis, Microsoft seems to have found its footing again as a software company that can execute a business plan across a cross section of the consumer electronics world. Smart Glass is a singular representation of that strategy. Any device, all talking to the already-in-the-living-room XBox hub. One entertainment brand– XBox– cutting across all the platforms and media. (So long Zune!) They’ve even gone so far as to HTML5 as the programming language for the apps being made for Smart Glass.
This is Microsoft?