- Xbox SmartGlass aims to make the console a key entertainment component
- App will tie TV and console with tablets and smartphones
- It uses Windows 8, but Apple and Android mobile devices also will work
- SmartGlass app will be free and available this fall
Perhaps the biggest splash in the early going of this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles was made by Microsoft with its unveiling of Xbox SmartGlass.
And while there's a video-gaming aspect to it, the feature promises a lot more (which, to be honest, is the sort of thing that plays bigger in the rest of the world than it does at E3, where the crowd is heavily made up of hard-core gamers who were probably more excited about the preview of "Halo 4").
Less than a day after SmartGlass was introduced, details are still emerging about how it will work.
But what's clear is that the application, which will work hand in hand with the upcoming Windows 8 operating system, is Microsoft's play to make the Xbox 360 an indispensable tool for all kinds of entertainment.
First of all ...
SmartGlass is not a kind of glass.
Maybe it's the buzz about the Gorilla Glass featured on the new Samsung Galaxy S III smartphone. Or the fact that touchscreens are a key part of the feature. Or -- you know -- the fact that they called it SmartGlass. But some folks have been confused on that score.
The feature is actually an app.
It will work with the Windows 8 operating system, which runs on both PCs and mobile devices, to link up tablets and smartphones with the Xbox console and, by extension, a user's TV.
So I need a Windows phone or tablet?
No, you don't.
Obviously, Microsoft would prefer you buy something such as the Nokia Lumia 900 or one of the many tablets expected to be released once a final version of Windows 8 is up and running later this year.
But SmartGlass will also work with Apple devices, such as the iPhone and iPad, or mobile devices running Google's Android operating system.
As long as you have an Xbox 360 and either a PC running Windows 8, mobile devices running Windows 8 or an iOS or Android device, you're good to go.
How is this different?
There are other products that do similar things -- from Apple's AirPlay, which streams content from an iPhone or iPad to your TV, to apps such as HBO Go that provide bonus content to enhance TV shows and movies.
But, at least as Microsoft describes it, SmartGlass will pull lots of those features together into one app as well as take them further.
Yes, you can start watching a show on your tablet or phone, then send it to your TV or vice versa. But they say the app also will recognize TV shows or movies you were watching through an Xbox device and automatically serve up that content without you having to look for it.
During a demo at Microsoft's media event Monday, as the speaker watched a scene from HBO's "Game of Thrones," a map of the show's expansive world popped up.
Then, there's the gaming aspect. Much as Nintendo's promised Wii U incorporates a handheld device with gameplay on a traditional console, players will be able to enhance gameplay on their mobile devices as well. During the demo, a tablet was used to call a football play in "Madden '12."
Add to that the voice and motion-control abilities already available with the Xbox Kinect system, and you can see Microsoft's vision for making the console a centerpiece for all electronic entertainment.
If the Xbox is the brains, SmartGlass "gives users the limbs needed for a full functional, self-sufficient media beast," Gizmodo wrote.
When? And how much?
The app is free. So, as long as you have the right hardware, there presumably will be no extra cost. Microsoft says SmartGlass will be available this fall, which is about the same time a final version of Windows 8 has been promised.