As it prepares to better integrate mobile devices and computers with Windows 8, Microsoft has unveiled an app to add its Xbox 360 entertainment console into the mix.
At an event prior to the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) trade show in Los Angeles, the software giant demonstrated SmartGlass, which allows games, video and -- soon -- Web content to be shared across the spectrum.
"Xbox is on a mission to make the entertainment that you love even more amazing," said Don Mattrick, president of the Interactive Entertainment Business at Microsoft, in a statement. "With Xbox SmartGlass, we are lighting up entertainment across your phone, tablet, PC and TV in a completely new way. If you love to play games, watch TV and movies, surf the Web, or listen to music, there has never been a better time to be on Xbox."
It's a move that can help Microsoft not only keep up interest in the Xbox before the release of its new console next year (while Nintendo is already gearing up to roll out the Wii U next-generation device) but also promote its struggling Windows Phone ecosystem, which has so far failed to gain a foothold in the market.
SmartGlass, however, will also reportedly be available to XBox Live subscribers who use Android and Apple iOS devices.
The SmartGlass app will be available later this year, and will allow games or movies to be transferred from one device to another or use your mobile device as a remote control, while displaying information about the selected displayed media in order to be a sort of virtual companion.
"I'm not sure how much this differentiates from Nintendo in terms of gaming, but so long as it supports iOS and Android (in addition to Microsoft platforms) it should have decent market potential," said Michael Inouye, a digital home analyst with ABI Research, noting that it remains to be seen which versions of Android will be supported.
"I would imagine Nintendo's Wii GamePad will offer more gaming elements, since it is a purpose-built controller for the console, but Microsoft should offer a better multi-screen experience when it comes to video. Microsoft, along with Sony, have put together a more compelling entertainment experience beyond gaming than Nintendo -- at least to date and quite possibly the near future as well."
Explorer on the Way
In addition to SmartGlass, Microsoft will at last bring Internet Explorer for browsing to the Xbox this fall, and the company unveiled 35 new international content partners for Xbox and a slew of new games, including the fourth incarnation of its hit shooter title "Halo." A new service, Xbox Music, will allow access to more than 30 million tracks.
The new Wii U, whose release date still has not been named, will come with a tablet-like GamePad controller that offers a second video screen for alternate perspectives.
Integrating mobile devices customers already own into the Xbox universe "is a great move and something that will likely become the norm for most game platforms moving forward -- and if Microsoft does adequately support iOS and Android, all the better," Inouye said.
He added that accommodating rival mobile operating systems was something of a necessity given "the limited exposure Microsoft has in the mobile space at the moment."
But that leads to a potential logistical issue: "[How do you] address issues when a mobile device fails to work with the Xbox, who will offer customer support?"