Is SmartGlass really that smart?

11Dec

By Paul Barbara

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Rewind your clocks to July 2012 and the E3 presentation by Microsoft and if you recall something new was announced.  No, it wasn’t the Xbox 720 for those who cried “I want a new console”, it was something completely different.  It was Xbox SmartGlass.

So what the heck is SmartGlass actually?  Well, it’s actually a companion application for the Xbox 360 which is designed to run on several platforms such as Windows 8, Windows Phone, iOS and Android.  Xbox SmartGlass essentially connects with the Xbox 360 to allow never before seen levels of interconnectivity in a console add-on.  Released as a simple free download, SmartGlass was available to all on October 26th to coincide with the release of Windows 8.  Now that you’re up to speed with what exactly SmartGlass is, I’ll begin my rant.

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The E3 presentation took many of us by surprise and in some cases blew many out of the water.  The idea of having a tablet rest beside you as you game, that could provide extra information, stats for multiplayer, maps for single player and an interactive map for your movie watching certainly had many of us gamers and non-gaming folk excited.  How great would it be to watch the “Game of Thrones” and whilst you’re watching the show, the tablet and SmartGlass help expand that experience with character bio’s in real time, and a map that shows the location of the show as it unfolds.  Quite a nifty idea.  SmartGlass also makes surfing the internet that whole lot easier thanks to the touch capabilities of your tablet.  For me, all of these ideas were great, but the one that had me excited the most was the way it would work with games.

Imagine holding a controller, and firing up your engines with Forza Horizon.  Rather than push the back button to bring up the on screen map which takes you out of the action, simply grab your tablet that’s using SmartGlass and you’re on screen map now lives on your tablet.  So touch or draw your route or objective and it’s locked down with ease.  You don’t even leave the game experience to do so.  This was a great move forward and one that I embraced at the time that is until now.

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Here we are with SmartGlass out in the wild, yet there is not an ounce of promotional material to support it in the slightest.  Game packaging fails to mention the game is “SmartGlass compatible” for starters.  How does a consumer know if their game is compatible or not?  If you consult Wikipedia, thanks to the public, you’ll see that a mere 5 titles, yes 5 titles support Xbox SmartGlass.  They are, Dance Central 3, Forza Horizon, Halo 4, Home Run Stars & Kinect Sesame Street.  Absolutely pitiful.  How can such a great idea be so poorly executed?  With Kinect, the town was ablaze with marketing, promotional material etc, but with SmartGlass there seems to be very little to none at all.

In regards to the line-up of games, the current selection is really poor and a concerted effort is required to make sure that developers support the technology.  Even if nothing else bar the ability to have the map on your SmartGlass device is all that’s available, it will at least be a start.  Take a recent release such as LEGO Lord of the Rings.  A SmartGlass interaction would have been fantastic given the game has a huge map that requires navigation, or perhaps the recently released Far Cry3, or Assassin’s Creed 3.  Some of these titles would truly benefit from SmartGlass updates in the future.

On the other side of the fence now of course is Nintendo’s Wii U console which essentially combines SmartGlass and a controller, and mashes the two together to form a tablet controller.  This is brilliant, and honestly something I think Microsoft should have considered as an option, however not everyone may wish to buy an expensive tablet controller given many of us sport a tablet device of some sort.  The Wii U has in my opinion produced the exact same capable device as Xbox SmartGlass, except its implemented it better to the market.  You can play games on the tablet by itself without use for the console at all, or perhaps you want to simply surf the web on your tablet.  That too is easy as 1, 2 and 3 with the Wii U.  With Xbox SmartGlass, those options to game on the go are not there (well not yet anyway).  I can certainly see an opportunity for Microsoft that’s staring me right in the face.  We know it won’t be easy (well more like an impossibility) to make full Xbox 360 games run on a tablet, however it may be feasible to have titles that are designed for the Xbox Live Arcade to be able to be run on some of the newer tablets.  Instantly this can transform your tablet into a portable Xbox Live Arcade gaming experience.  Can you imagine the sheer backlog of titles available to you if such an idea was implemented?  I think it’s one that needs serious consideration moving forward.

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Also, Nintendo is requiring games to support the Wii U tablet from launch.  This is a solid move as it will ensure that development continues and more innovative uses will come about given such a mandated requirement. Xbox SmartGlass on the other hand, needs to ensure some form of requirement is place on developers to implement some form of SmartGlass interactivity in the future.  With these changes, and some better marketing by Microsoft, I honestly think Xbox SmartGlass can succeed even if its attempt is just a pilot for the next Xbox console.  SmartGlass is a great idea and it’s honestly at this point failed to live up to the hype set at the E3 presentation.  Some serious changes will be needed if SmartGlass is to become the way of the future, otherwise it’s doomed for failure.