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I didn't go to E3 (so none of these Missed Connections are me!), but I did get a sit-down with Microsoft's Xbox team to check out thenew announcements they made at the show. (Our pals from GamesRadar were there, of course.) And I came away both excited about Microsoft's plans, especially the new SmartGlass app coming to iOS -- and tantalized by how Apple could pull off similar feats if and when they finally get around to releasing their own "iTV" solution for home entertainment.
SmartGlass will soon let you control your Xbox from your iPad -- and get bonus content too.
Xbox SmartGlass will launch in Q4 for Windows 8, Windows Phone, Android, and iOS. Think of it like a combination of the Remote app for iOS that lets you control your Apple TV and iTunes from your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, and the TiVO app we reviewed a while back that shows you extra info about what you're watching. Only Microsoft's interpretation is much, much slicker.
SmartGlass connects to your Xbox 360 and lets you use the touchscreen as the remote control, tapping and swiping intuitively to find what you want and make it play. But if the movie or TV show you're watching has bonus content, the app will also display it in real time on your tablet as you watch. One example I saw was a really cool interactive map of the Game of Thrones universe, that automatically moves as the show plays, so I can keep up with where the action is taking place. And the other example was blurbs of information that appeared while watching School of Rock -- I could see who's on screen at any time and tap to find out more about those actors (the ol' "Hey, it's that guy!" reaction that sends me to the IMDb app while I'm watching TV now), and when songs played in the movie, I could see what they are, that kind of thing. It reminded me about the "enhanced episodes" of LOST (you know, those pop-up reruns?), only without the annoyance factor, since the extra info is on your tablet instead of your TV screen. It's neat, and I hope Apple takes notice.
Xbox's offerings have a Metro look on Windows 8. No word on Mac versions just yet.
Xbox announced new content partners, too, including Nickelodeon, Rhapsody, Comedy Central, Paramount, and Univision, which is both exciting for Xbox and hopefully a sign that we're reaching a tipping point when content providers have to look at streaming models to stay relevant, rather than sticking with the cable/satellite subscription model that's so limiting to consumers.
Another thing that impressed me a lot was Xbox's new method of searching across all the content channels. By saying, "Xbox, Bing, Star Trek," to the Kinect, I could instantly see every instance of Star Trek movies and TV shows available to stream. Then I could filter the results (say, just to movies), and when I found the movies I wanted, I could see all my options to rent it, buy it, or watch it for free on a service I already pay for. Brilliant, and just what I wished for when writing this article.
We've previously discussed using your Mac to watch web content on your TV -- it's one of the reasons we're stoked about AirPlay mirroring of a Mac to an Apple TV, coming with Mountain Lion -- but the Xbox will soon have Internet Explorer built in, handy for web apps that aren't yet available as dedicated Xbox apps -- in the demo, the example was Pandora, which worked great running in the browser. You can navigate with the Kinect or use your tablet or smartphone running the SmartGlass app -- the touchscreen works perfectly as a trackpad and input device, as we've seen with Apple's Remote app.
And of course, don't forget that the Xbox can play Halo too. Your move, Apple TV.