In some ways Microsoft's E3 conference was the wrong place to announce Xbox SmartGlass, a revolutionary but very deliberately quiet contribution to Xbox 360's swelling assortment of cross-platform gadgetry. The presentation in question may have been a noisy affair, with the phrase "Wii U killer" definitely in the air, but the whole point of SmartGlass is that it's only as intrusive as you want it to be.
Rather than creating a new market with SmartGlass, Microsoft hopes to capitalise on the existing plethora of tablets, touchscreens and network services, "surfacing" data to users dynamically via a single lump of software, available for every mobile device. Activate the app on your phone or tablet and, like an iPad-era English butler, it'll discreetly monitor what you're doing with your Xbox and pull down complementary content from the web. You're not obliged to pay attention, but it's there if you want it.
Microsoft detailed a few early and prototype applications for SmartGlass at E3 this month. The focus is firmly on film and movies at present, with more sophisticated gaming functions to be unveiled closer to the app's autumn release, but what we've seen in motion tickles our fancies. You already know about pop-in Halo lore and draw-your-own Madden plays. Here are a few other possibilities to chew on.
"There's another game we're shipping called Homerun Stars, it's an Arcade title, and it actually integrates Kinect, Microsoft's senior global marketing manager Peter Orullian told us at E3. "With SmartGlass you'll be able to pitch or bat, and it's not just tapping a button, you'll articulate how that pitch goes into the batter. Someone stands in front of Kinect and hits, you can reverse that, and the person on SmartGlass can bat. It takes two great Microsoft technologies and couples them."
Microsoft has a new, currently untitled karaoke game on the way this year, armed with an unprecedented 8000-9000 tracks. However will you get through rounds with friends without spending 10 minutes per song browsing the offerings? Answer: thanks to SmartGlass, players can skim, pick and queue songs using a tablet or phone while other people are performing. What's more, you can tamper with the songs themselves to minimise embarrassment, doctoring the vocal range to skim past those painful high notes.