Microsoft's got a couple of surprising allies when it comes to pushing Xbox One this November -- Apple and Google. Rather than lock its smartphone and tablet companion app to Windows Phone, everyone's invited to Xbox One's second-screen party.
At a basic level, the Xbox SmartGlass app is a wireless remote for Xbox One. You can browse the web on your TV using the app and a phone or tablet as a posh mouse, fire up games and videos from your portable device or select music. It can even control your TV if you've set it up right with Kinect's IR blaster. But there's more than that inside it.
One of the most exciting next-gen Xbox One SmartGlass features is the way it can be used to set-up online matches while you're playing a game. So there you are, hitting a wall in some shooter while playing offline. You decide to give up and head online. Xbox SmartGlass can then be opened and used to search for online matches by itself, freeing you from having to quit your single-player experience to browse for available multiplayer lobbies.
This little digital butler may also help organise multiplayer games in the home. Microsoft suggests it can operate as some sort of additional touchscreen controller, mooting the idea that for casual card games the SmartGlass app could be used to give up to 16 people their own separate display to play on. After all, everyone's got a phone on them nowadays, but not everyone carries an Xbox controller with them at all times in case of a gaming emergency.
Xbox One launch game Dead Rising 3 uses SmartGlass to great effect. The app effectively becomes your in-game character's smartphone display, and although optional, there's good reason to bother setting it up on your phone or tablet. Texts and messages from characters open up exclusive missions and unlock extra weaponry for Xbox SmartGlass users, plus there's the ability to access a real-time map of your location and a rolling mission checklist to access right from your device.
Those of a more casual persuasion will be able to use Xbox SmartGlass to control Ubisoft's music game Just Dance 2014, with players of the party dancing embarrassment-a-thon able to edit playlists from the mobile and tablet app. An automatically compiled highlights reel post-performance may also be edited via Xbox SmartGlass, with users able to edit clips using a simple, touch-controlled editing suite.
Xbox SmartGlass features are also being used to help differentiate Xbox One games from versions of the same titles that appear on other hardware formats. Electronic Arts is jazzing up the Xbox One version of Madden 25 with a mode it calls CoachGlass, an exclusive feature that won't appear on any other versions of the game. This lets players use their second screen to view and control defence options while playing the game, using a novel form of crowd-sourcing to pull in data on successful defensive tactics used by other gamers against certain teams. In EA's implementation, Xbox SmartGlass turns into a sort of tactics whiteboard to add an extra layer of managerial skill to the rather guesswork-like job of playing the defensive role in a Madden game, plus it also allows cooperative fun, with one player manning the physical controller and another in charge of tablet tactical action.
And as for making it all tick along, Microsoft reckons Xbox SmartGlass will be massively faster to use with Xbox One than it currently is when paired with an Xbox 360. The reworked app now connects directly to Xbox One via your home network, whereas the current-gen SmartGlass has to connect to Xbox 360 via an outside data centre, so the speed of your internet connection and other network issues add latency to the process. Not so in Xbox One.
The SmartGlass app is already out on the Android, iOS and Windows Phone app stores, with users able to access some of the features in combination with an Xbox 360 right now. Get it and have a practise, as everyone, even your mum, will soon be second-screening everything.