Microsoft has unveiled its latest innovation for the Xbox 360 games console – a second-screen app called SmartGlass which will allow users to interact with and control their Xbox experience via smartphones and tablets.
SmartGlass (just announced at the E3 expo taking place in Los Angeles) will be compatible with a range of mobile platforms, including iOS, Android and Windows Phone, when it launches this autumn.
It will turn compatible mobile devices into another screen for controlling certain experiences driven by the Xbox console, for viewing content on others (such as additional information in games), and for seamlessly transferring the playback of a video from the big TV screen to the mobile device.
One example given during the E3 demo involved the hugely popular ‘Game of Thrones’ programme, with a map of the fictional continent of Westeros displayed on a mobile device running the SmartGlass app, and other supplemental information also being displayed.
The app will be powerful enough to control the Xbox 360 in compatible games, as well as in non-games scenarios such as when using the new Internet Explorer for Xbox app that Microsoft has confirmed for launch in all countries where Xbox and Xbox LIVE are available.
Other Xbox-related news announced by Microsoft at E3 include the expansion of voice search on the Kinect peripheral to 12 additional countries (Australia, Austria, Brazil, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain and Switzerland), and a swathe of new content announcements.
These include major new sports services such as NBA Game Time, NHL Game Center LIVE, WatchESPN, and 35 new content partners who will be launching on Xbox over the coming year, including Univision, Machinima, Nickelodeon, Paramount Movies, Quickflix and TV3.
Editor’s view: This is yet another canny move by the Xbox division – it takes the emerging trend of second-screen interaction and anchors it within the Xbox experience in a uniquely rich and rewarding way.
It also provides Xbox users with a much better way of inputting text than the standard-issue game controllers, and opens up new possibilities such as a truly satisfying Web browsing experience.
The SmartGlass app looks like it will play a key role in making the Xbox experience more futuristic than other platforms, just as the Kinect peripheral has done, and just as the mooted Skype integration (details here) looks set to do.
Now that the Xbox team has delivered a bang-on-trend concept and exciting promo video (below), the big challenge now is to ensure that the app works seamlessly and intuitively, and doesn’t disappoint through sub-standard implementation.