By Kevin Kelly
Rosa Thomas, a ten-year veteran and Principal Program Manager at Microsoft, spoke at GDC in San Francisco about the SmartGlass experience that Microsoft has been rolling out slowly on the Xbox 360. First announced at E3 last year, Microsoft rolled out the service with Windows 8 this past October, and plans to ramp up what the experience offers in the coming months.
So what is it? On the basic level, SmartGlass is Microsoft’s proprietary Second Screen experience that works (currently) in conjunction with the Xbox 360, offering a second screen full of information and functions on the iOS, Android, Windows 8, and Windows Phone. Right now it only works with a handful of games, including “Halo 4” and “Forza Horizon,” some of the Xbox 360 video apps, including HBO GO, and a smattering of newly released movies.
The SmartGlass app, which you launch from your secondary device while running the Xbox 360, provides different functions on the second screen, ranging from information to media controls, and they have opened the system up to third-party developers, giving them a range of options to bring to the device. The app was primarily launched as a replacement for an iPad or a laptop, as they realized that many users would be browsing IMDB while watching a movie on Netflix, looking up actor and director information while watching, but Microsoft wants to grow this experience, and make it a lot more interactive.
For instance, while “Forza Horizon” offers a robust GPS system on SmartGlass, running it while playing “Dance Central 3” lets you connect for different devices to queue up songs, read the lyrics, and add songs. Other uses include interactive polls, quizzes, and mini-games, but the future is wide open, which is where Microsoft is hoping the third-party wizards will step in. These SmartGlass experiences run within HTML5 or Java, and they run within SmartGlass on in an embedded browser. It’s a hosted experience, taking the load off of the developers,
Thomas showed us a rudimentary demo using two Windows Phones that were playing a mockup game of Texas Hold ’Em Poker. While you could use the buttons to check, raise, fold, etc., but she also demonstrated checking by shaking one of the phones. While the demo was crude, it was meant to highlight the capabilities of SmartGlass for developers and did not rely on a base game or television program to operate.
Phillip Profitt, from the Microsoft Advanced Technology Group in Japan also showed off a demo using “Ninja Gaiden III: Razor’s Edge,” where the SmartGlass was live-updating information from the game and displaying achievements, and it also has the ability to look up videos on YouTube, based on your location in the game. This is a helpful addition, because the game can be hard, and this will turn your device into one of the most expensive tips and tricks guides ever.
Interested in developing your own SmartGlass app? Sign up with Microsoft to download the SDK, and get cracking. Bonus if you can design an experience that teaches how not to suck at fighting games, beginning with the upcoming “Injustice: Gods Among Us” when it comes out next month.