Following up on our Microsoft SmartGlass in-depth preview, Senior Product Manager Peter Orullian gave us a pretty thorough walkthrough of the service and its level of functionality right now. It really breaks down to three separate pillars: video, gaming, and Internet Explorer.
When we first saw the video functionality, the Game of Thrones "activities" weren't working; this time, however, the map of Westeros was fully functional on both the Windows 8 tablet and Lumia 900. Orullian did repeat the "write once, run anywhere" mantra, and to be clear he's referring to iOS / Android / Windows. (The important clarification is that there are at least two different views a developer has to design and program for — one for mobile and one for tablet / desktop.)
But while DVD extras may not be compelling enough, the gaming activities are particularly interesting even if not yet actualized. The Halo 4 and Madden examples from the Xbox 360 press conference were just concepts, and Orullian was quick to remind us that a number of times. The one we did see was Ascend: New Gods, which was just a moving map shown on the phone (not yet optimized for tablet / desktop). To be honest, the potential of SmartGlass this week was best exemplified by Sony and Nintendo — the promises Vita cross-play and Wii U Gamepad could work very well with SmartGlass, and there's a good chance you'll be able to already use your smartphone, tablet, or laptop of choice.
The potential of SmartGlass, best exemplified this week by Sony and Nintendo
Then there was Internet Explorer. Though Kinect compatible, with SmartGlass you can use your device of choice as a keyboard and mouse. the Lumia 900's touchscreen, for example, was used as a trackpad (no mirroring of the image — just a black area that you thumb around). Pages like Xbox.com and ESPN loaded fine, but when we challenged Orullian to pull up The Verge, the fonts and some other obvious formatting styles weren't coming through. When asked if we'd be able to take the on-TV web page and move it to our SmartGlass device (à la continuous client) — to continue browsing on the couch while we play Halo 4 or watch a movie on the big screen — Orullian said no.
To put it mildly, SmartGlass is a natural extension to the groundwork laid by Xbox Companion App. While none of the aforementioned Activities are exciting on their own (gaming is in theory, but we're being cautious in our optimism), it's the sum of all parts that sells the concept. And the sheer ubiquity of SmartGlass — that it works for almost any secondary screen you already have and feel comfortable with — is a surprisingly smart move for Microsoft. Some questions remain: what is the timeline for release? What developers will actually support this at launch? How will video sharing work — and will it work on iOS? In all likelihood, not even Microsoft has those answers yet. But on concept alone, we've got high hopes.