Microsoft used its E3 press conference to unveil its new SmartGlass technology that will use handheld devices such as smartphones and tablets as both an Xbox control device and as a second screen for the display of dynamic, rich information. Head of Xbox Live, Marc Whitten, confirmed that in addition to working with Windows 8 phones and tablets, SmartGlass would be compatible with iPhone, iPad and Android devices. The technology will also finally see the arrival of Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser to the Xbox 360 before the end of the year.
SmartGlass: a new control paradigm?
As a demonstration of how SmartGlass could deliver rich content via a second screen, Whitten demonstrated an episode of Game of Thrones streamed through an Xbox console, complemented by rich information on a tablet. Specifically, the location of the character Jon Snow was shown on an interactive map on the tablet's screen while action unfolded elsewhere on the big screen.
In a Halo 4 demo, unlocking "waypoint data" in-game brought up additional information on a tablet. More compelling was the use of a tablet to select and customize in-game plays in Madden NFL 13. The appearance of a friend-request popping up on the tablet during the Halo 4 demo suggests that SmartGlass will also interact with the Xbox dashboard as well as game-specific content.
Describing SmartGlass as "the world's best remote control," Whitten indicated that Microsoft had deliberately held off launching a browser for Xbox because game controllers are poor input devices for this purpose. With the arrival of SmartGlass, Microsoft clearly feels that Xbox is ready for a version of Internet Explorer, that will be controlled both through Kinect voice commands and by using the touchscreen of your secondary device to control a pointer on your television.
By leveraging devices that many gamers will already own, Microsoft is apparently side-stepping the whole question of the second screen offered by the Wii U game controller. Both SmartGlass and Internet Explorer for Xbox are scheduled to launch Q4 this year.
Perhaps the most significant of games newly announced during the event was Nike+ Kinect Training. An extension of the Nike+ series of apps and hardware, the Kinect game offers an on-screen personal trainer to guide you through workouts, offering what Nike claims is the "most personalized digital training experience in the world."
In other game news, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone revealed that the forthcoming South Park RPG would be called The Stick of Truth. The maker of Toy Soldiers, Signal Studios, unveiled its fantasy war game Ascend: New Gods (which will apparently boast asynchronous multi-player). Xbox Live's Alex Ruiz demo'd Wreckateer, a Kinect-controlled siege engine came, in which players get to destroy stylized cartoonish castles. Ubisoft's Splinter Cell: Blacklist, Twisted Pixel's Loco Cycle and Gore Verbinski's Kinect-controlled Matter were all announced. New footage of Halo 4, Call of Duty: Black Ops II, Tomb Raider and Resident Evil 6 was also shown.
Microsoft unveiled a number of new Xbox Live content delivery streams, most significant being Microsoft Music which it is believed will replace Zune. Offering a claimed 30 million songs, it's thought the service will bring a Spotify-like music rental and streaming service to Xbox and Windows 8 PCs and devices.
New sports coverage was announced in the shape of dedicated NBA and NHL channels, and an HD ESPN channel which it appears will cherry pick the best content from ESPN's networks, including NFL coverage in some form.
Any attendees hoping for an announcement of a new Xbox hardware were left disappointed.