The interesting thing about E3 2012 was how few really big surprises there were.
While everyone and their cosplaying mother knew that Nintendo was gonna make a splash with the WiiU it remained to be seen what, if any, hardware announcements would be made by Microsoft and Sony in regards to their Xbox and PlayStation brands.
Microsoft's press conference, while getting a rise from the fanbase by showing trailers for Halo 4 and a slew of other sequels, was mostly par for the course. That was until they busted out Xbox SmartGlass.
While we all knew about Nintendo's Wii U, the PlayStation 3 and its Vita compatibility, everyone was excited to see Microsoft get into the "second screen" game.
Of course, while it was easy to see this as Microsoft's attempt to steal Nintendo's Wii U thunder, smart money is that this was Microsoft firing a shot across Apple's bow.
What exactly is Xbox SmartGlass?
Simply put, Xbox SmartGlass is an app for Windows 8 PCs, tablets, and mobile devices that lets users view and interact with content (such as games and video) that's being played on their console. Sounds simple doesn't it?
Of course, Xbox SmartGlass aims to be more than just that.
At first glance Xbox SmartGlass looked like a remote control that lets users control media that's playing on an Xbox 360 from a mobile device.
If Appl'es AirPlay comes to mind you're not alone. And while it does do this (and may be the primary way that people use it) it also promises to do a lot more.
During Microsoft's E3 2012 press conference, the Washington-based company talked about how they think people consume media, as well as how they think people use the myriad devices that have become part of our daily lives.
With that in mind one of the cooler features with Xbox SmartGlass is that it lets you start media (like music or video) on your Xbox 360 and seamlessly continue the media on another SmartGlass-enabled device (whether it's a Windows 8 tablet or smartphone).
SmartGlass vs "second screen" solutions
From a hardware perspective, E3 2012 was about two things: so-called "second screen" gaming and streaming games from the likes of OnLive and Gakai (but we'll touch on streaming gaming in another article).
It would seem that with Xbox SmartGlass Microsoft was hoping to kill several birds with one stone: steal Apple's thunder during WWDC 2012 and show that not only is the Wii U special, but also that Microsoft's open system is superior to Nintendo's closed system in that it works flawlessly with the devices you already own.
Serving as a "second screen" Xbox SmartGlass will provide additional content that is pertinent to what you happen to be doing whether it's a video game, a movie or a TV show.
The caveat being that it's playing on your Xbox 360. During Microsoft's E3 2012 demonstration they showed off Xbox SmartGlass with "Game of Thrones."
Using the Xbox SmartGlass we were shown an interactive map of Westeros (or whatever that place is called) that showed where the action in that given scene was taking place.
During gameplay players will be able to use Xbox SmartGlass in a tactical way. During Microsoft's E3 2012 demonstration they showed how a player could use the second screen while playing Madden Football NFL 13 to draw hot routes.
In Halo 4 players will be able to see their stats and other information.
If there's a "killer app" with Xbox SmartGlass it's Microsoft's promise that the app will be available on whatever mobile device you own: whether Android, iOS, or Windows 8.
This has the potential to blow the second screen scene wide open as Nintendo, Sony and even Apple's second screen solutions are relatively closed.
Who will actually use Xbox SmartGlass?
While Microsoft, and everyone else it seems, is betting on this whole second screen thing, it remains to be seen how it will be accepted.
The Wii U shows promise in certain applications and games. But smart money is that Microsoft is making a move against Apple's AirPlay and seeing that it will exist cross platform as a simple app, we see no reason that folks won't at least, give it a shot.