Published on June 9th, 2012 | by Cameron Woolsey
E3: I Saw Xbox SmartGlass in Action, and it was Actually Kinda Cool
During their E3 press conference, Microsoft paraded quite a few things that were expected: new Kinect games, dashboard update, people dancing like idiots, but there was one that not everyone saw coming. Xbox SmartGlass is a new technology that is designed to tether a smart phone, computer tablet and the Xbox 360 together for reasons that, at the time, Microsoft seemed more excited about than the audience.
During the presentation, I know I wasn’t the only one who was puzzled when the spokesperson said something about SmartGlass being the first time viewers can control their TVs–I guess in this case, Xboxes–using their smart phones. However, this technology already exists. Perhaps I misheard (I refuse to watch that dull conference again), but I know for a fact that there exist apps that can easily control some electronics, TVs especially.
Either way, Xbox SmartGlass was greeted by a general ho-hum reaction, which wasn’t surprising considering the now trendy callousness journalists and gamers have toward gimmicky technology. However, since this new tech exists and was being demonstrated on the show floor, I decided that it was worth a quick look.
The presentation I witnessed featured the SmartGlass trifecta: a Nokia Lumia 900 with the SmartGlass app, a tablet PC (I didn’t notice the brand), and of course an Xbox 360. The initial connection was pretty quick, I counted it at around 10 seconds. The smart phone is the primary means used to control what happened on the Xbox, which includes choosing which App to start on the dash, and searching via on-screen keyboard. The tablet played more of a supporting role in the trio, offering tidbits of information when something is being played through the Xbox.
To start, the demonstrator used the phone to start HBO Go on the Xbox 360. Navigating with the touch screen, she started up “Game of Thrones,” which was also the example used during the Microsoft presentation. The Xbox 360 obediently started the show, and as the beginning credits rolled, the tablet’s screen displayed information on each city that was shown on the TV screen. While this isn’t really going to spark everyone’s interest, fans of the show will surely enjoy the ability to easily learn more about the land of Westeros while watching the show at the same time. It looked to me that each city was displayed as a button, perhaps to offer in-depth details if pressed.
Next, the demonstrator went back to the movies section and started what else but “School of Rock,” not that I really needed an excuse to watch Jack Black being silly and fat. The movie started at a spot where two characters, Black and the young Miranda Cosgrove, were discussing something. The tablet changed to display the actor’s names and thumbnails of their faces. As the scene changed to the classroom, the tablet’s screen quickly included the entire class to the roster.
Pressing one of the performer’s faces on the tablet brought up what looked to be a menu similar to those who like to surf such sites as the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). You can gain access to that performer’s information including bio, movie list and quotes. This is a little feature I really liked, as I am one of those people who would recognize a face and have to pause the show in order to hunt the performer down. With SmartGlass, all that information will be a button press away.
The time I had with SmartGlass was brief, and I know for a fact that it can do more than what I have listed here. I thought it was pretty cool, sure, but completely useless to Xbox 360 owners without a smart phone or tablet computer. I know SmartGlass is not going to be the most talked about new tech of E3. For most, the product won’t even be on their minds long after the E3 buzz has died away. However, for those who actually own the three main ingredients for the tech, SmartGlass does offer a different way to watch video. And maybe more; there’s a chance that Microsoft hasn’t shown off the true potential of SmartGlass, and I haven’t even covered what it can do for games–more on that later. For now, it remains a neat little piece of technology, hopefully some bigger reveals come for it. Until then, don’t expect it to blow your mind.