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SmartGlass and Why It Actually Is Smart

Posted on June 5, 2012 AT 04:42am

Of all the things I saw during the major press conferences of E3, Microsoft’s SmartGlass tech is the only thing that really blew me away. The new SmartGlass technology is an application that is set to connect your phone, PC, or tablet to your 360 console in a new way. From what I’ve been reading, most people seem to be focusing on the idea that it is just another controller with a touchscreen in a similar fashion to the Wii U. In fact, I’ve even seen some claims that this is just Microsoft’s response to Nintendo’s new controller. I can probably blame that misconception on the Madden part of the conference, but I digress.

SmartGlass is not just a controller; it’s a remote, a mouse, a digital lore book, a touch screen, a map, and so much more all rolled onto something most people already own. The reason I’m not decrying this little gadget is because of what we saw in the Halo 4 portion of its showing. When it was first shown on stage, people were given a look at the UNSC Infinity, a human starship that was about to crashland on the planet. You could see it in the distance and if you zoomed in on it, you were given a little notification at the top of your screen about new info.

This is where things became interesting for me.

As the presenter pulled up SmartGlass, the notification was there and easy to access. One little click and all of a sudden you have a full 3D blueprint of the Infinity in your hands along with a series of notes about its construction, history, crew, and more. Does any of this information really matter to you? Not to all of you, but to some it might and thats the point. SmartGlass is smart because it isn’t in your face, it’s there if you are interested in it and nothing more. That doesn’t mean there aren’t uses for it, with that map you just saw you may be able to plan ahead for where you might be ambushed or even leave waypoints if Halo leaves its scripted sequences of combat.

Now imagine you are playing Skyrim. Every book you pick up is logged into your SmartGlass application for easy access. Imagine being able to quickly sort your inventory in a far quicker fashion than the D-pad or joystick will let you. You could use it to look at your map for fast travel or setting waypoints without cycling through menus. You could even have character bios and the like. All little things that would not interfere with your gameplay experience if you don’t want it to, but at the same time can add to the immersion for people who are interested in the world beyond just the gameplay. That’s just one of the possibilities for gaming and I’m sure I can think of plenty more if I cared to.

But ignoring gaming for a second, the SmartGlass shines as a new way to connect to your Xbox 360, it turns it into the central hub of your entertainment system. On the Xbox dashboard you have access to TV shows, movies, music, and now the internet. What SmartGlass is providing these is a remote controller that you already own. With this you could be able to turn on your Xbox and set up your music through your phone for instance. You could be watching a movie on your tablet as you were on the train and then instantly transfer the stream to your Xbox, allowing you to watch it on the big screen when you are home. Since you have just transferred the video to your TV, your tablet is now free to do something else such as bring up the cast and crew for movies or in the case of a Game of Thrones episode, tell you the plot synopsis of any episode and where it is occurring on the map of the world. This isn’t just one way, you could fire these different streams around to any of the devices in your house, from your phone to your computer to your tablet and back again. Probably the most boring feature that SmartGlass provides is the ability to interact with the new Internet Explorer function of the Xbox. Using your phone or tablet you can surf the web on your Xbox with more ease than a regular controller.

Long story short, SmartGlass is smart because it doesn’t do anything you don’t want it to. It’s an application that is there to enhance what already exists on the Xbox and can easily be ignored if you don’t have any use for it. And just like I was for the Kinect, I’m curious what else this technology could be used for outside of the gaming world. Dismissing the Xbox SmartGlass without giving it a fair shot would just be a waste of the innovation put into it.

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