The modern world of gaming is very different to the one of a decade ago. Games consoles are being marketed as far more than just machines to play games on; devices like the iPhone along with the App Store have revolutionised the way we perceive portable gaming, and console manufacturers are struggling to find ways to compete. Even home consoles are becoming outdated, as they largely force us to use physical media in a world where we’ve gotten used to just downloading a new game whenever we fancy.
Microsoft have done something awesome. Instead of releasing something else to compete with Apple in this market, they released Xbox SmartGlass. The app allows you to use your iOS device as an extension of your Xbox, and it is very, very cool.
What it Does
The idea of SmartGlass is to bring some level of interaction between your Xbox, and your iPhone. It’s almost like turning your iPhone into a really swift and expensive remote control for your Xbox, except it does more than that.
Once you’ve gone into your Xbox settings and switched on SmartGlass to pair with your iPhone, you’re able to navigate a live Xbox dashboard on the device. You can launch games, message friends, check achievements and even browse Xbox apps such as Netflix and use it to get a movie started on your Xbox. There’s also a neat mode that turns your iPhone’s screen into a touchscreen controller, complete with A, B, X and Y buttons.
Perhaps the biggest sigh inducing moment of using an Xbox is having to type; even the quickest controller-typers out there only manage typing speeds as fast as your gran because it’s just plain slow. But now you can use your iPhone’s keyboard to type things into your Xbox — yes!
The app works whether your Xbox is on or not; obviously, you can only control your Xbox’s dash if it’s on, but you can still check your friends list, achievements, and discover new games and content without needing to switch on your console.
The way that the app replicates the Xbox dashboard is very nice indeed. It looks genuine, it’s responsive and packs in many of the features you can find on the real Xbox dash. You can even edit your avatar — a feature that I think I’ve used once since Microsoft introduced avatars some years back — but it’s still executed very well here.
Some of the best things here are in the small details. For example, you don’t need to be connected to the same network as your Xbox to connect the two devices. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, I know, but when you have a bandwidth limit on your home Wi-Fi, and unlimited data on your iPhone, you want to use your cellular network as much as possible. This app lets me.
In general, Microsoft should be applauded for the level of polish throughout SmartGlass — the interface is brilliant, it’s never once crashed on me and it’s just plain cool. You may struggle to find a real use for the app at first, but this is only the start of what SmartGlass is going to be able to do.
In fact, Microsoft has announced that they’re working with game developers to bring support for SmartGlass to future game titles, and it’ll work kind of like how the Wii U’s controller does. While you won’t be using your iPhone as a controller to play CoD anytime soon, you may start seeing mini maps move from your on-screen HUD to SmartGlass. How about your stats? Or maybe your inventory in an RPG? The possibilities are exciting.
There are a few things that bug me, though. For example, you might just wanna use SmartGlass to find a movie to watch on Netflix while you sit back and let your controller charge. Opening the app and waiting for SmartGlass to connect to your Xbox, even on a fast connection, takes about thirty seconds — and this process is repeated every time you load up the app after having not used it for a few minutes. To Microsoft’s credit, this probably isn’t entirely their fault, as iOS’s sleep/multitasking behavior is likely to be part of the problem.
Leading on from that point, right now there isn’t really anything you can do with SmartGlass that you can’t already do just using your good ol’ Xbox controller that you’re most probably going to have right in front of you (and that doesn’t take thirty seconds to connect). Like I mentioned, game developers are getting the opportunity to change this, but right now it’s hard to find a real reason to actually launch this app when I go to use my Xbox.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, the real potential of this app is going to show when we start seeing games come out that utilize SmartGlass to enhance the gaming experience. I can imagine playing CoD online and seeing my in-game stats right on my iPhone screen as I play, instead of having to hit the select button on my controller every time I want to check. I can see myself having my rear-view mirror view in Forza, right there on my iOS device, that runs live as I race.
The possibilities of SmartGlass are what could really change gaming. Consoles these days are marketed as machines that do far more than just run games — manufacturers like Microsoft want your Xbox to be the center of your living room. To be honest, I’ve never bought that idea, and let’s face it, no one buys an Xbox so that the whole family can gather round and play Uno together. SmartGlass is a really fresh idea, that I think could really take off.
SmartGlass, right now, is only scratching the surface. But it’s free, and there’s almost no reason to not give it a go. It already packs in some awesome features, and even if you download it just to show off (or to pause your friend’s Netflix movie as a prank) it’s still cool, and It’s only going to get better from here.