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06.05.12

What’s So Smart About SmartGlass? 15 Questions

Alex Klein asks (and answers) all the questions you may have about the new Microsoft technology that’s got everyone talking.

What is SmartGlass?

It’s new Microsoft technology that syncs up your TV, smart-phone, and tablet.

Whoa! So it's some kind of digified, high-tech, touch-capacitive glass, a là Minority Report?

Not exactly. It's really just a snazzy name for a clever type of network. Tech companies think it sounds cool to smush words together.

Does it have anything to do with glass at all?

No. SmartGlass is basically an app—albeit a sophisticated one. It unifies your television, Xbox, phone, and tablet in one big, happy family. You can use your mobile devices as nifty controllers and stream extra content into your hands. The idea is to give your games, movies, and TV shows a bit of mobile oomph.

So what makes it so smart?

Let’s say you’re watching the latest Game of Thrones, but you’re having trouble getting your Lannisters and Targaryens straight. Pull out your SmartGlass-enabled tablet, and the device will automatically provide you with extra information on whoever is chewing the scenery onscreen, as well as a scrolling map that shows you where in Westeros the action takes place. As soon as a character enters the frame, the tablet will automatically pull up some background info: homeland, weapon of choice, turn-ons, etc.

What if I don’t like swashbuckling medieval fantasy?

Microsoft is teaming up with Paramount, HBO, and other soon-to-be-announced partners to package additional SmartGlass content. For example, they’ve demo-ed a version that pushes character bios from Jack Black’s School of Rock to your tablet.

Tech companies think it sounds cool to smush words together.

Sounds helpful, but what else can the SmartGlass combo do?

According to Microsoft, you’ll be able to start a video on one of your SmartGlass devices and finish it seamlessly on another. You can keep all your movies and shows in the cloud and watch them on the go. You can even download all your goodies directly to your tablet, then stream them straight to your TV—no wires or DVR necessary.

What’s the Xbox angle?

SmartGlass will augment your gaming experience in a couple of ways. First, your tablet can serve as a kind of secondary controller. You can call football plays in Madden, or set up multiplayer matches in the much-anticipated Halo 4. For casual gamers, a karaoke game will stream song lyrics directly to your tablet.

That’s it?

Well, there are also rumors that you might be able to take versions of your games completely mobile, on your tablet or phone.

That’s a cool new idea!

Well, actually, it’s not entirely new. A few months ago, Nintendo debuted its Wii
U console, which comes with a second, portable controller/screen. As Engadget put it in its preview of SmartGlass, “Nintendo was just beat at its own game.” Their version is an extra piece of hardware, while the SmartGlass platform is software that can run on almost anything.

Anything?

Yup. If Microsoft has their way, even Apple iOS products, from the iPad to the iPhone, will be compatible.

So what’s it going to cost?

SmartGlass is going to be a free product, launched before the end of this year.

No, really.

Really! Microsoft is trying to undercut Apple, which has a similar cloud-based streaming system called AirPlay. The Windows giant is hoping that full integration will get you hooked on TV web browsing through Internet Explorer, casual tablet gaming through the Xbox, and mobile media adventures on your Windows phone. It’s an ecosystem thing.

What does the blogosphere think?

So far, tech bloggers are loving the idea. But they love most new ideas.

And what do the markets think?

Microsoft shares have been inching downward since the beginning of May. The SmartGlass announcement kept the price fairly steady, closing yesterday at $28.55.

One last question: Will we ever get those magic glass panels that Tom Cruise used?

Maybe. But do you really want to end up like Tom Cruise?