Microsoft has a new gaming handheld: the iPad

You can forget about your dreams of an Xbox 360 Portable. That's so 2006. At this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), Microsoft did something much more surprising: instead of getting proprietary, it hopped on everyone else's platform instead.

(Credit: James Martin/CNET)

Xbox SmartGlass was the touted application, service, technology — whatever you want to call it — that stood for new technology at Microsoft's E3 press conference this morning in Los Angeles. It needed some jolt of new produce excitement, arguably, and SmartGlass can stand in as this year's "what is that?" buzzword — a second-screen concept for turning seemingly any smartphone or tablet into an additional display when watching movies, playing games or browsing online.

It's very unclear what exactly SmartGlass is or what it will do, other than what was demoed. However, it amounts to Microsoft's closest thing to a portable gaming experience. And maybe that's a wise move, as colleague Roger Cheng noted to me in an email as I walked back from Microsoft's presser, wondering what to make of it all.

Chasing hardware is risky. The last gaming handheld to try, the PlayStation Vita, hasn't exactly soared. Nintendo faced big problems with the 3DS before partially righting its ship, but the 3DS still pales in comparison to the height of the Nintendo DS' popularity.

Apple has had a huge impact on mobile gaming. You can't deny it. Neither does Microsoft, apparently. Microsoft has seemingly chosen to acknowledge something bold: they're never going to get iPads, iPhones and Android devices out of people's homes. So, if you can't beat them, join them.

Doing that may not be quite so simple. Apple has approved Microsoft's Xbox Live iOS apps before, but who knows what will happen when SmartGlass seems to offer something that could threaten Apple's future Apple TV ecosystem? Then again, there are plenty of peripheral apps in the App Store already, and maybe SmartGlass is one of them.

I'm a little sceptical. I'm reminded of OnLive and its long-promised streaming-games iPad app. It still hasn't been released, despite reportedly being ready to go, according to OnLive. Could Apple do that to Microsoft? That's the danger of hitching your mobile dreams to someone else's platform, although I applaud the democratic nature of it all.

SmartGlass may never be intended to leave your home, much like the Wii U and its secondary tablet screen. In that sense, this might be the admission that mobile gaming as we know it has changed. We're in an app universe now, whether Nintendo or Sony choose to fully acknowledge it. Whether or not SmartGlass ever fulfils its potential, Microsoft may be the most logical of the Big Three at this year's E3.


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