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Xbox's SmartGlass is no Wii U replacement...at least, not yet

Comparisons between Nintendo's Wii U and Microsoft's recently revealed SmartGlass technology appear to be premature, if the early demos and conversations we had are an indication.

Frank Cifaldi, Contributor

June 6, 2012

3 Min Read

When Microsoft unveiled its SmartGlass initiative on Monday, observers were quick to make connections to Nintendo's upcoming tablet-based Wii U. After all, it appeared to offer game developers another canvas for display and input through the tablets and smartphones Xbox players (theoretically) already own. However, after watching a product demo and speaking to representatives from both Microsoft and a developer actively integrating the technology, we're not so sure that this could act in the same way. In one demo we saw, SmartGlass was integrated with Ascend: New Gods, an upcoming Xbox 360 game from Signal Studios. In the demo, a smartphone was employed to display additional information for the player. As the player's character entered a new environment, the phone displayed a listening screen while it waited for data in the game. It then displayed a simple bitmap image of the current environment being played through, with a simple blue blip representing the character being tracked in real time. When the player reached the end of the environment (a cave) and went outside, the phone then picked up game data to load up the next map. Similar demos we saw for movie watching were equally simplistic, offering little in the way of direct or instantaneous interaction with the screen, instead focusing on peripheral information such as biographical data on actors in a movie being watched. So it's then unclear if a SmartGlass game could even use tablet screens as real-time, responsive input devices in the same way as the Wii U's GamePad. "I think that's possible," a Microsoft representative told us, indicating that even internally this hasn't necessarily been done. "Some of the things I've seen in Redmond, some of the work that's being done there, I'm actually startled at how quick the response is. Sometimes I can't tell [that there is input lag]," he explained. It is unclear just how much latency affects SmartGlass, or what developers should expect when the SDKs start deploying. We spoke with representatives from Ascend developer Signal Studios, but were referred right back to Microsoft, as that is where the game's SmartGlass integration is being developed. Signal has never touched the SDK. It appears that at least for now, the vision Microsoft has for the technology, as far as it applies to gaming, is more of a complementary peripheral experience than a new controller like the Wii U. When asked for examples of how the technology is being used, we were shown an unannounced karaoke game (not based on Microsoft's prior karaoke franchise Lips) using SmartGlass to switch songs and display lyrics, and a game called Home Run Stars that lets players choose their pitch or swing their bat. So will SmartGlass end up as an expected feature of all Xbox games in the future? It's possible, but not planned. "The market will help direct that," our representative tells us. "I think what will happen is that as you start to see developers doing interesting and really creative things, the consumers will start to have expectations." For more reports from E3 2012, be sure to check out Gamasutra's live coverage.

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