Xbox, Microsoft's successful foray into the world of gaming consoles is facing more competition than ever. Not only is Nintendo preparing to release a new dual-screen home system, the Wii U, but Google and Apple seem poised to release their own home entertainment system.
With SmartGlass, Xbox is hoping to get a jump on the competition, introducing it's own app that turns smart-phones and tablets into secondary Xbox screens.
"This is the time we'll always remember for the rest of our lives," said Xbox exec Marc Whitten at the E3 gaming conference this year. "Entertainment is being more transformed than it's ever been. What I spend all my time thinking about is, with so much content streaming into the living room, how can we make that experience natural enough that people will enjoy it?"
SmartGlass will be available for all iOS, Android and Windows 8 devices, and sync up to four devices to an Xbox 360 simultaneously. SmartGlass activated devices will do much more than just serve as extra video game controllers. While watching HBO Go, SmartGlass will provide extra content on your device. For instance, if you're watching "Game of Thrones," you might see a map of the fictional land of Westeros that tracks each characters location from scene to scene.
SmartGlass streams data directly from the Xbox or the Microsoft cloud, meaning that it's capabilities are only restricted by the limits of the internet. In other words the possibilities are endless.
"Look at all the reality or sort of music shows on TV," Whitten said, "and think about how that content can be augmented by having deeply synchronized simple experiences."
Over at Fast Company, writer Mark Wilson imagines a near future where you can play along while you watch Jeopardy, "only to be interrupted when Alex Trebek knocks on your door with a giant check."
SmartGlass won't be cluttered with menus and settings. Features will simply pop up naturally based on whatever is running on your Xbox.
"Entertainment is there for people to relax," said Whitten.
SmartGlass also means the arrival of internet browsing on your TV. The Xbox 360 will be getting a version of Internet Explorer that will be controlled by a tablet or smart-phone. This will also mean the end of a problem Whitten has been trying to solve for years, terrible text input programs.
"I've worked on text input in the living room for literally a decade now. I can talk about more reasons on why it won't work than anybody," Whitten said. "Meanwhile, I have this phone, and I actually use the keyboard on that phone to write hundreds of text messages a day. Why can't I use the same mechanism I use all day [on the couch at night]?"