As expected, Microsoft just announced something called SmartGlass at E3. Less expected? Just how awesome SmartGlass turned out to be. What could have been just an Apple AirPlay imitation, is something more ambitious. Something that could change television forever. But what is it, exactly?
It's the lifeline that'll make your dumb TV smart.
SmartGlass is a new app that turns your phone or tablet into another screen for your TV, another controller for a game, a companion feature for a show, a remote control for the Internet and more. More importantly, it'll work with iOS, Android and Windows, so you won't need to buy new hardware to fit into its ecosystem.
SmartGlass does more than just push video and audio around. It turns the Xbox 360 into the beating heart of a multi-screen media experience in your living room. A tablet, phone or computer running SmartGlass essentially becomes a second and third screen for your TV.
A concrete example: As Game of Thrones was being shown on the TV via Xbox 360, a SmartGlass-enabled tablet displayed a map of Westeros and other relevant information about the show. Content can either be pushed from the tablet/phone/computer to the 360, or from the 360 directly to the TV. SmartGlass connects all of those devices to make content engrossing on multiple levels. Your individual devices don't have to ignore each other, they'll work together to entertain you more.
But SmartGlass can be used with more than just movies and TV shows. Microsoft also showed how a gamer could use a tablet as a separate playbook while playing Madden on the Xbox. Even further, Microsoft will finally bring Internet Explorer to the Xbox, with SmartGlass turning your phone into mouse. Sure, it's silly to surf the web on your television with an old and gray keyboard and mouse setup—unless the keyboard and mouse are your phone and tablet.
Microsoft very clearly wants to make the Xbox 360 the center of your living room transformation. It's the hub that powers everything. But if the Xbox 360 is the heart and the brain, SmartGlass gives users the limbs needed for a full functional, self-sufficient media beast. Combined with the Xbox's growing dominance as a top-flight streaming box, and you've got yourself a potentially very powerful monster.
If you think about it, Microsoft's vision of the living room of the future is a throwback to what the company has already known and mastered: the PC. It's smartening up the living room by using the Xbox as the PC, the TV as the monitor, the phone and tablet as the keyboard and mouse, Kinect as its futureproof wild card technology. SmartGlass, then, plays the role of Windows, seamlessly connecting everything.
But the real key to SmartGlass is its openness. Bring your own tools, Microsoft is saying. It doesn't matter. Because however you control it, all that really matters is the Xbox. And that's all Microsoft.