At the E3 conference in Las Vegas Microsoft has made a series of announcements focused on its Xbox 360 games console, but also relating to Windows Phone, Windows 8, and even Apple iOS and Google Android.
Xbox SmartGlass is a free app for Windows Phone, Windows 8, iOS and Android which links communicates with the Xbox. Examples include:
- Watching a movie on a tablet while travelling, getting half way through, and automatically resuming on the Xbox at home.
- Seeing related content on your tablet such as team members, maps, game inventory, and so on, while the TV or game action takes place on the main Xbox screen.
- Using the tablet to navigate web pages that are also displayed in Internet Explorer on the Xbox, tapping links and using pinch and zoom.
Yes, IE is now promised for the Xbox “this fall”, and there will be a new web hub. No word yet about Adobe Flash, but with a strong focus on multimedia in this context, it would certainly make sense to include it, as Microsoft has done for Metro-style IE in Windows 8. In fact, the browser shown at E3 on Xbox looked reminiscent of the Windows 8 Metro version.
Other major consoles also have web browsers, so what is special about Microsoft’s late inclusion of the same feature? The company says that web browsers on other consoles are little used because they are hard to navigate, and is counting on a combination of Kinect voice control and SmartGlass to make it work better on Xbox.
Another problem though is that most web sites are simply not designed for viewing from twelve feet back. A second awkward question: if you have your tablet out, why not just use the tablet’s own web browser?
It makes little sense for general web browsing, but can work for playing videos or viewing images, which I guess is the main idea here.
Microsoft has also announced Xbox Music, which sounds like a replacement for Zune and its subscriptions. You will be able to download and/or subscribe to 30 million tracks, and the service will work seamlessly, according to Microsoft, on Windows Phone, Xbox and Windows 8.
Watching the E3 press event was an odd experience. Xbox games are still dominated by macho fighting titles like Halo, Splinter Cell, and Black Ops, all of which were demonstrated complete with bone-crunching violence, death and mayhem. At the same time, Microsoft is trying to make the console the entertainment hub for the whole family, and for movies and sport as much as for games, so we also got Dance Central 3, and exercising with Nike plus Kinect.
One thing not mentioned was Xbox vNext. The 360 was released in November 2005, an eternity ago in technology terms. The hardware has held up well, but even so, if Apple pulls out something TV-related soon (perhaps even at its WWDC event next week) then it will have the advantage of being able to release something based on up to date hardware.