SmartGlass for Xbox One Preview

SmartGlass for Xbox One Preview

More promises, but will they deliver this time?

Microsoft this week detailed a new SmartGlass mobile app for Xbox One. This new companion app will build on the capabilities of the original version and provide second screen experiences for Xbox One-based games and entertainment apps.

It's fair to say that the current implementation has been long on promise but short on meaningful real-world usefulness. So I'm curious to see how this changes.

Here's what's happening.

It's a new app. SmartGlass for Xbox One will be a free, new mobile app for Windows 8/RT, Windows Phone 8, iPhone, iPad, and Android, and not an update to the current set of apps.

Availability. SmartGlass for Xbox One will be available "this holiday season." You may recall that Xbox One is shipping November 22, 2013.

Basic capabilities. At a high level, SmartGlass for Xbox One will work like today's app. You can use it to navigate the web on your console, change the volume on the TV, select entertainment content or games to play, and select from a promised range of second screen experiences from partners.

Better performance. Looking at the differences between the old and new apps, the first is performance: The connection speed and performance differences are "immediately noticeable," Microsoft says. "Generally, SmartGlass is about three-and-a-half times faster on Xbox One than its Xbox 360 predecessor."

Matchmaking. SmartGlass for Xbox One will support matchmaking. So you can be playing a game on the console and set up a new match on your device using this app, without interrupting your current game session.

More devices. You can now connect up to 16 SmartGlass devices to Xbox One, four times as many as is possible with Xbox 360.

Games. So far, Microsoft has revealed that the games "Dead Rising 3" and "Project Spark" will support SmartGlass for Xbox One immediately, but the plan is for many more developers to embrace its second screen capabilities.

Game help. SmartGlass for Xbox One will provide a Help button that will contextually search for help for the game you are currently playing on the console. But it's smarter than that: "During gameplay, SmartGlass follows your progress and knows exactly where you’re at and where you’re having trouble, so that when you hit the Help button you’ll be given the tips you need," Microsoft says.

Game control. While a smart phone or tablet isn't an ideal controller for games, Microsoft has improved the latency between the console and the mobile app enough that it will be possible for developers to use it as a secondary controller. For example, it might provide a way for you to make coaching calls in the football game you're currently playing.

Disconnected use. SmartGlass for Xbox One will work when you're away from the console too. It works like a dashboard that keeps you connected to your friends so you can see their activities, send and receive messages, and so on.

TV. SmartGlass for Xbox One will work as expected as a smart TV remote.

So none of this is surprising. But with Microsoft only discussing two games and zero entertainment apps so far, I'm naturally worried that the next gen SmartGlass will continue to not live up to the promise of this technology. Microsoft promises more info soon, so I'll be watching this one closely.

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