Friday, June 8, 2012

[EDITORIAL] Did Microsoft Just Kill the Wii U?

Probably one of Microsoft's worst kept secrets, the idea of SmartGlass was a vastly intriguing one: be able to interact with your Xbox 360 games through a tablet or smartphone, regardless of what device you owned. Just download an app, sync it with your Xbox, and, if the game you were playing had support for it, use your device to interact with it.

Call plays, or even create and modify your own, in Madden 13 in secret.

Scan Terminals or enemy info, and unlock content for Halo Waypoint in Halo 4.

Watch videos on your device of choice, pause, then resume playing on your TV, ala Apple's AirPlay.

SmartGlass was probably the most wall-breaking technology shown at E3, as, finally, one of the major console manufacturer's has said "fuck it" to proprietorial devices, and relies on software to deliver their experience. Who better to rely on their own software than Microsoft?

We already know that Microsoft relies heavily on software to run it's business. Windows is key for them. Zune, as a hardware brand, was killed, but the Zune service was integrated into Windows Phone 7 and the Xbox as a music and video service. Microsoft doesn't make OEM hardware for either Windows or Windows Phone, but rather, relies on their partners - from HP to Samsung - to craft their hardware. With the exception of the Xbox brand, Microsoft doesn't make shit in-house.

It's with this mentality they used to create SmartGlass. According to a recent Engadget article:

"It was only when they came up with the idea of SmartGlass 12 months ago -- being able to connect your phone or tablet to your Xbox and use it as a controller, among other things -- that a browser on an Xbox started to make sense."

One year ago? What happened one year...oh, that's right! Nintendo announced the Wii U and the GamePad tablet controller. Knowing this, we can see how much influence Nintendo had on SmartGlass once the Wii U's GamePad was first announced this time last year. Once Microsoft saw how their competitor was doing it, they knew how to do it better. How could Microsoft one-up their biggest competitor in the video game marketplace?

By relying on their other competitors install base.

The concept of SmartGlass is simple: take one part Wii U, one part AirPlay, add a dash of in-house trickery, and your shot glass? Why, go ahead and use every one of your competitor's devices to spread the love. SmartGlass is available as a download (price has yet to be set) for just about every smartphone and tablet on the market, mostly iOS and Android (asides from their own Windows Phone 7). Microsoft knows that, yes, Windows Phone 7 has nowhere near the install base size that Apple or Google has with their own phones. Look at the data pooled by Information Week: they claim that Android's hold has 59%, Apple's iOS has less than half of Google's hold at 23%, and Windows Phone holds a measly 2.2%; Apple holds nearly ten times the market share of Microsoft, and Google holds twenty-seven times the size. Who can blame Microsoft for wanting to dabble in what Apple and Google have already done for them?

With SmartGlass, Microsoft has gone bat-shit crazy - in a good way - and rather than waste time, money, and effort on more hardware that no one will give two fucks for, they made their own software, and will distribute it amongst the masses via already established means. Adam Sessler has already said it, but it bears repeating: Microsoft has matured.

SmartGlass is the stepping stone for our betrothed gaming big wigs to finally embrace their competitor's products and merge everything together. It will be some time before we see a unified game system, but this is one huge stepping stone towards a future without people ripping each other's throats out.

Please. Just don't fuck this up.