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Microsoft Introduces Second-Screen Feature, Xbox SmartGlass (techcrunch.com)
68 points by motti_s on June 4, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 43 comments

This is a spectacular move by Microsoft because it takes the main feature from Nintendo's upcoming WiiU: a touch-screen for games.

Nintendo has released an entirely new system, while Microsoft has kept up with Nintendo's innovation by using devices you already own.

This sounds a lot more like a static information display than another screen for gaming.

EDIT: but yes, there's no reason why this can't be as dynamic as what's on the WiiU. Nintendo's competitive advantage can become a commodity overnight through software alone.

During Microsoft's E3 press conference they said they intended it to be used for gaming. There was a concept video of a tablet being to used to call plays and view the field in Madden.

Nintendo didn't develop the WiiU for the new controller, I would imagine the tablet controller would work on the current Wii just fine. But it's time for a console refresh so Nintendo might as well toss in a new gizmo to entice people to upgrade. I expect MS and Sony to do something similar although I would imagine this feature will carry over to the new MS console since it doesn't require new hardware.

Well it depends on execution though. Just 'having' a feature isn't the whole story. For some reason I've the feeling Nintendo is gonna come up with some fun, innovative concepts for their system, that make it appear novel and interesting, while Microsoft's implementation looks forced on and unnecessary. At least that's how it seemed with the Wii vs. Kinect.

I'm not much of a console gamer, but I do play more than my share of PC games, and I have to ask... is anyone else really unimpressed by this touchscreen-peripheral concept, in any of its incarnations?

When I'm playing a video game, I want to be immersed in it. It's a very clever illusion, though one I doubt anyone ever consciously invented, that since your field of view is always in the same place in retina-space[0], a static screen can trick you into thinking you're looking or moving around by displaying moving images.

I feel like having a second screen, especially one I have to hold in my hands, could only distract me from this effect and remind me that I'm actually sitting on a couch, staring at a big lighted box... which doesn't really sound like fun to me.

[0] Seriously, think about this. It blew my mind.

I agree with it detracting from the immersion in many cases, but I think your forgetting about casual games. Where this is really interesting is that it enables hidden information in local multiplayer games.

For example, you can't play poker locally because you could see everyone's hand. With this, the hands can be displayed on the player's phones. This goes for a lot of board games.

Also - playing games like Madden - you can have a playbook on your tablet, and thus keep the other team from seeing the type of play you are picking. There are a ton of games that benefit from the 'second screen' without busting immersion.

I agree that Skyrim should skip the second screen, but imagine using the iPad as the map from CoD or BF3 - issuing commands to squads via the iPad while they control their characters with normal controllers.

> I agree that Skyrim should skip the second screen, but imagine using the iPad as the map from CoD or BF3 - issuing commands to squads via the iPad while they control their characters with normal controllers.

I'm remembering commander mode from BF2 and thinking that if I had a second screen for something like that, I'd be in heaven.

Even if the functions of the "start" screen (squad/team/comms/weapons management) were relegated to a second screen, I think it'd be a big improvement. It's a lot easier to switch context in the physical space than it is to flick between screens with input lag and the fact that it completely obscures your view. It's a modality issue. You can't effectively divide your attention.

Inventory management for Minecraft on 360? Easier to shift things around with your fingers than moving a pointer with the standard 360 controller.

Some of the very few GameCube games that took advantage of the GBA link-up cables made good use of player-specific screens. Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles used it for individual inventory management and Four Swords switched play to the GBA screens when players entered buildings/caves.

You're quite right, I did forget about those. I'm still not quite seeing it, though... I suppose since I'm not a console gamer I have a hard time imagining spending my time hanging out with other people while all starting at our hands.

I think I'd need to see an implementation that wasn't just a rehash of a board/card game I can play quite well already thank you very much to believe it.

Think of Scrabble for iPad, where the main board is displayed thereon and players can use iPhones for private game pieces.

I really don't think this is direct response to Wii U tablet controller, and if it is - it's not a very good one.

Wii U tablet has buttons and screen in one device you hold in your hands - I can't imagine constantly switching between 'traditional' Xbox controller and Android/iOS/Windows 8 tablet, whereas switching from pressing buttons to using touchscreen on Wii U is infinitely easier.

Being that Smartglass is a precise clone of Apple Airplay, I think it needs to be interpreted as a response to Apple capabilities in cross-device media sharing.

Airplay is exceedingly simple. There is no prior setup, no sync, no user-visible state transfer, no unnecessary session management, it handles multiple users properly, it backgrounds well on iOS, and authentication is "free" since all that's handled at the Wifi layer.

When you see people in wizzy concept videos flicking content from one device to another, this is what they're doing. The only thing they get wrong in these futuristic videos is that this stuff has been shipping for the last two years on a major platform.

Microsoft was correct to clone this.

I was thinking the same thing and was baffled by all this wii-u talk. Air play is a really neat feature I've been jealous of with my Android devices. If they are able to provide a similar experience using the xbox i already own and my computers/ipad/android phone, i'm really excited. Waiting game for now i guess.

To be fair, it is not a precise clone. While the play-to feature is the same, to my knowledge, Apple does not allow in-game and in-movie tie ins. Plus, it allows your phone to act as an extender of sorts. To me, this is the coolest feature.

Negatory, good sir. AirPlay's got that covered too. As of late you can do multiple drawable screens and choose which one to chuck down the AirPlay encoding hole, as long as your CPU/GPU can feed both. Microsoft is just making this feature more explicit.


Yup - while I am a GIANT AirPlay nerd, the interactions between the second screen and the main display is the big feature of this. Unless this handles "I am watching YouTube on my iPad and want it bigger" better than AirPlay (which is doubtful, as the Apple Halo is much tighter than MSFTs), AirPlay still wins that scenario, and this wins the gaming/movies/second screen world.

Had to check out the Apple website to see what Airplay was all about. I don't use Apple products myself, but it seems pretty pretty sweet.

It's one of those "I'm living in the future" things. You're sitting there, browsing your iPad while your wife is across the room reading or whatever. "Hey honey, check this out" and with the press of a button the youtube video you want to share is on the TV, where she can see it.

I think this is just as much a response to the wii u as an all out assault on roku, google tv, apple tv and of course cable companies. They kind of waved their hands at it but they plan on offering the ability to start a video on any device and finish it on the xbox. The number of partnerships announced along with ability to use IE on the xbox and your tablet as a remote for the browser (along with your voice which is still the killer feature of kinect) they have developed a tv box that makes competitors step up their game not just playing catch up to others.

Check out www.demobo.com. It is a poor man's version of xBox SmartGlass. Any web developer can do this easily with demobo api.

IE on the Xbox? I wonder if that means I can request one for my desk at work for browser testing.

Article is kind of light on details though. Does that mean the presentation was light on details? I'm guessing this is only for Windows8 devices.

From watching the Ars live blog, they announced it's on Android and iOS as well. Good move, there.

If that's the case then that's actually quite nice of them. I would not have expected that.

If this is going to be a competitive feature from Microsoft, they need to get it in the hands of as many people as possible.

Yeah, on this one they're not trying to kill Apple/Google, they're trying to kill Nintendo.

Plus, the Xbox division runs at arms-distance from the Windows team. Zune used to be there as well, but they've been pulled in/shut down.

This is how I envisioned Google TV would work. I hope someday it will.

Plenty of iPhone apps do most of this with xbmc already.

I think arguments over whether this will be better than the Wii U completely miss the real issue: direction. Where things are going. Companion devices through smart phones and tablets will commoditize the proprietary Wii U hardware very quickly.

Nintendo will be pushed out of the hardware business with this generation and will pull a Sega and become a software only company. They don't have pockets deep enough to afford even a single big hardware miss, and the Wii U will be a miss.

Even stronger companies like Sony are finding it dangerous to stay in the gaming hardware business. If the PS4 doesn't sell well enough, it's questionable whether there will be a PS5 given the horrible condition Sony is in (for reference, their stock is roughly, inflation adjusted, where it was 25 to 28 years ago).

Just my opinion, but I believe Sony and Nintendo will fade in the hardware business, and Valve will replace one of them. The winners will have very large online communities, neither Sony nor Nintendo have that going for them, whereas Valve and Microsoft do.

Nintendo has a large bag of cash and a huge fanbase that will buy any console with Mario and Zelda. Will it repeat the Wii? Probably not, but that's a tough act to follow. People predicted doom with the N64. Nintendo followed that up with the Gamecube, another failure. They still survived enough to make the biggest selling console by far. With them making money on every unit sold (something MS and Sony don't bother with), even if no one bought any games they still made piles of dough. Nintendo will sell at least enough to keep going. The casual market is huge.

Sega wasn't in good financial shape to begin with, at a time when games were difficult to sell. They lost their retail partnerships by launching console after console to compete with themselves. Sega had zero credit to ride on when they folded. Nintendo will survive.

I've bought pretty much every Nintendo console they've released (and some handhelds). The post-wii world looks pretty different from my perspective:

1) The lack of quality first party titles for the Wii is very disappointing. This is a contentious point ... but every single person I know both has a Wii and currently uses it as a paper weight. Nintendo could have had something big given the penetration of the lil Wii console. I used it for Netflix for quite a while, for instance. They really blew this one though. I believe there have been no feature enhancements for the Wii home screen since release! Netflix updated recently but the experience is very poor ... I get buffering problems all the time for instance.

2) I was stupid enough to buy the 3DS the first day. The device was pretty shitty ... gave me headaches.. literally. Plus, the price reduction followed by giving old owners shitty games in return was insulting.

Based on 1, 2, and my love for the 0.99-4.99 games on the iPad, means that I am no longer going to buy consoles from Nintendo. And I might not be alone on this one.

my love for the 0.99-4.99 games on the iPad

This right here is Nintendo's #1 competition right now, even Nintendo admits it. That may be a driving factor in the tablet controller. If parents can give their kid a basically kid-proof tablet to game on, they won't get their sticky, clumsy hands all over the expensive iPad. Combine that with games for a tailor-made gaming device (iPad is not) and buttons, and you've got a pretty nice family-friendly gaming system.

With the iPad/Android/W8 Tablet market Microsoft is adding on to the 360, you could liken it to further reinforcing the division between the systems. Nintendo for families, Microsoft for college aged through adult gamers.

Not a week goes by where I don't hear someone my age (adult) say "I'm never buying Nintendo again!" In the same timeframe, there are thousands of kids coming to the age where they really want to get into gaming. I'm 20-something, and my generation is really growing out of Nintendo. But we're having kids who are just growing into Nintendo.

My nephew is 8 years old. He had a DS and loved it. BUT, like most 8 year olds, he would lose his games, and eventually his DS.

Instead of buying him a new DS, my brother bought him an iPod Touch. Same price as a DS but the games are free or cheap. Plus, he can't lose the games, even if he loses the iPod.

Of course, the iPod does more than games. My nephew loves that he can video chat with his cool uncle as well as listen to music, and all the other things an iPod does.

You're discounting two phenomena that helped them weather the tougher times and are unlikely to repeat - Pokemon (you can't really count on another such a massive media franchise popping up) and handheld gaming dominance (iPhone and Android killed this market for standalone devices).

Have they really killed it? There's obviously more casual gamers carrying mobile devices around, but but they weren't buying handhelds to begin with. Everyone I know that previously used a DS or PSP for gaming still prefer that type of device over a touch screen phone for any sort of involved gaming session. If you have a link to research showing that core market has moved on, I'd love to see it.

I don't see Nintendo fading after just this generation. They've got significant reserves of cash, the Wii's still selling strong, and even with the rise of phones and tablets, they still have a massive chunk of the portable market. It's always been their strategy to take risks, even if that causes the occasional Virtual Boy.

Sega also made a series of big hardware blunders before they bowed out - the Game Gear (not a disaster, but hardily the Game Boy-killing Holy Grail they needed), squeezing life out of the Mega Drive with the Mega CD and the 32X, the various design and marketing blunders that scuppered the Saturn, and then the failure of the Dreamcast (which wasn't actually a bad device, it just had the misfortune of going up against the PS2).

Variations on this line of commentary have been passed around for over a decade. 'Commoditization' of Nintendo hardware is almost irrelevant; no hardware innovation has gone uncopied for long. The core selling point for Nintendo hardware has always been Nintendo software.

The last Nintendo title I bought was Metroid: Other M. I've seen the endless parade of Mario Party/Mario Kart games and frankly I'm tired of it. Even Zelda is starting to get old.

In my opinion Nintendo seriously needs new IP - they've been riding on the coattails of stuff that was invented ages ago, and I haven't seen anything interesting in years.

It's also possible that I'm no longer in the target market, but I can tell you that Nintendo is not on the radar of my kids either (3 and 12).

Right, and Nintendo is now in a world where their hardware gaming platforms will never even remotely reach the scale of distribution they can get from the iPhone all by itself.

A lot has changed in the last decade.

A billion global consumers now have powerful computers in their pockets, and no Nintendo games run on them.

Nintendo isn't wildly profitable, and has rarely ever been so. They'd be far better off distributing their extremely valuable IP across a billion consumers via other vendor hardware. Put good Mario and Zelda games on the iPhone, and make a billion dollars tomorrow. Let Microsoft / Sony / and Valve fight it out in consoles, and release a Mario game for the XBox that sells 10 million copies. It's a radically more profitable approach than trying to stay in the hardware business when gaming platforms are plentiful via smart phones and tablets.

I found it very hard not to disagree with this. And I won't try. The only thing that makes a console different than a phone is the interface and the display. To which I much prefer a console on my big (and yet inexpensive) tv.

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