When Microsoft unveiled the Xbox SmartGlass at E3 back in June, its tablet capabilities shared obvious similarities with Nintendo's Wii U GamePad controller. We've learned a lot since then, and while at first it seemed like Microsoft was treading on Nintendo's suddenly reinvigorated gamer interest, Microsoft may now need Wii U to succeed to make its tablet technology relevant.
First and foremost, I don't think SmartGlass (which admittedly looks very, very cool) will be as "mainstream" as the Wii U GamePad, or it at least won't make as quickly a transition into people's homes. I think about it in the same way Kinect hasn't quite been able to penetrate into the living rooms and bedrooms of the "hardcore" crowd Nintendo is trying to grab back with the Wii U, but it's still paving the way for innovative and interesting gameplay mechanics. This NBA 2K13 trailer should showcase just how well Kinect can be used without forcing mechanics (See: Rise Of Nightmares).
Interestingly, while both SmartGlass and the GamePad look identical in their execution and engagement with titles, there are some questions that need to be asked about Microsoft's intentions with the technology, and how these compare with what the GamePad is already able to do. It's important to remember, I think, that while Microsoft came out with this at a time when so much was already being asked of the Wii U, it doesn't necessarily mean in it's on the same page: SmartGlass seems more like a subtle expansion of the Xbox 360's capabilities, while the GamePad takes Nintendo gaming in an entirely different direction to what we're already used to.
The reality is that developers just don't really seem to be engaging with Microsoft's technology very much, something that FIFA 13 producer, David Rutter, echoed by saying the E3 reveal came too late for them to implement tablet features into the Xbox 360 version of the game. He did, however, praise both Wii U and SmartGlass, saying any features on the GamePad could work equally as well on the SmartGlass, which is promising rhetoric for Microsoft.
While expecting much from Microsoft on the SmartGlass front is perhaps a little too pedantic only a few months after its official reveal, it will clearly feature on Microsoft's next console alongside Kinect, which is something that might make the Wii U seem obsolete, although it seems doubtful considering the headstart developers have with Nintendo's hardware. If gamers are going to refer to the Xbox 360's headstart over the PlayStation 3 to argue why the latter's games don't look as good, we can certainly apply that same logic here: if companies like Microsoft are going to take the same route as Nintendo, it's logical to think that Nintendo will have set the standard for others to follow throughout the generation.
One must also factor in the limitations of the Xbox SmartGlass if they are going to argue its viability as a genuine threat to Wii U, as it lacks the control functionality of the GamePad: while tablets and smartphones have touch-screen controls, they don't have control sticks or facebuttons, something Nintendo president, Satoru Iwata, pointed out shortly after the SmartGlass was revealed.
Is one more of a threat to the other? SmartGlass might be able to benefit from expanding gameplay features in certain games, namely sports titles, but the control limitations make it a minimal threat to Nintendo's plans for Wii U. The GamePad gives gamers access to specific hardware and software, whereas SmartGlass won't be in as many people's homes, unless Microsoft bundles it in with a new console. The real threat won't exist until then, so we should expect original software that the SmartGlass, and Xbox gamers, can only benefit from.
Do you think SmartGlass can become a mainstream device for Xbox 360?
By Gaetano Prestia