It's smart, right, and it's made of glass! Huzzah!
Now that E3âs finished and your friendly NZGamer newshounds have had a chance to sleep, eat real food, and recover from the plague most of us caught on the plane [I'm still sick - Ed.], weâve finally got the chance to write about something other than the blockbuster titles everyone wants to hear about on day one.
At the Microsoft E3 press conference, the thing that had most people talking (aside from Usher demonstrating his dance moves) was this new app called Smart Glass. It was certainly keeping in theme with the other big playersâ inclusions of auxiliary screens, like the Wii Uâs handheld screen/controller, and Sonyâs upcoming titles that integrate both the PS3 and the Vita. But what was it about Smart Glass that made it any different from these?
I was able to put some of my questions to Marc Whitten, Microsoftâs Xbox LIVE Corporate Vice President, on the afternoon of the last day of E3. At this point of the expo, everyone was exhausted, and some booths were even starting to pack up. Marc must have been tired of answering the same questions hundreds of times, but I found him as enthusiastic and engaging to speak with, as heâd been when he presented this new tech to us at the press conference.
I mentioned to Mark that it seemed one of Smart Glassâs greatest strengths is that it is not hardware-specific (itâs able to be installed on any Windows Phone, Android or iPhone/iPad).
He replied, âAll this technology exists but itâs really hard, and no one wants to use it. And entertainment is a really special thing: no one wants to âlearnâ how to do entertainment. This is where weâre supposed to to sit back, I donât want to spend any brain cells, I would just like to have a great entertainment experience. And so the more that we can make a really simple experience that forms habits with consumers so we learn with them on how you can transform entertainment, the better.â
So what were the initial driving factors behind Smart Glass?
âWhat started it for me, is we were talking about text input, which sounds like a simple thing, but Iâve worked on text input in the living room for ten years, and it is hard; we all donât do it, we hate it. So Iâm sitting there, thinking, I have my phone in my pocket, and I literally do dozens of text messages a day on that phone. So if I can make it work on the phone it would be great, but if youâre going to do that you have to make it work everywhere. If you make it âif you have the right phone then it will workâ, then you havenât really done anything."
âOnce you said that, then youâre like, âwell, ok, I can also control the experience, by being able to use the natural interface to make it simpler to [do so].â
"The next step was to then go back to the content itself, and tell it that itâs running across these multiple devices, in order to let people do some 'cool and interesting things.'â
One of those cool and interesting things Marc demoed at both the press conference, and when we were talking, was something that had been produced by HBO in conjunction with their Game of Thrones TV series. They had created extra content for the Xbox and Smart Glass, so as the show progressed, the auxiliary screen (in this case, Marcâs Lumia phone) would display a map of Westeros, and the current characterâs position therein, as well as information on character histories, and family - especially perfect for viewers who hadnât read the books.
Another example was when Marc again used his phone to browse to the NZGamer.com website, and this time used his phoneâs touch screen the same way youâd use a trackpad on your laptop. The standard finger gestures to zoom in and out worked as well. To my mind it was revolutionary in its simplicity.
I asked Marc if the intent would be to eventually replace other controllers with the Smart Glass option.
He replied, âthey all have their place. I donât think itâs a zero-sum-game. There are some experiences that are always going to be amazing on our game pad. Iâm not trying to change the way people play Halo. The core experience of that great game pad in your hand is something I want to keep. Similarly, with Kinect, being able to use my voice to navigate, is a really key experience. But there are many other experiences where I do believe this will become the worldâs best remote control. Because itâs the way Iâm already used to interacting, and I can make things happen, just simpler, and I won't want to pick up the other devices.â
With other examples such as using your phone to display the map while youâre playing Ascend, or a karaoke game where multiple players can add to a playlist just using their phones, and the implications for watching video, listening to music, or watching sports on the Xbox, itâs easy to see that Smart Glass really does have the potential to become an ubiquitous part of the Xbox experience.
As Marc said, âmy devices should just work together to solve problems for me - and it shouldnât have to be hard.â