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SmartGlass vs. WiiU: The battle of the second screen

Today is third day of E3 2012 and the past two days have revealed some exciting innovation in the world of video games. Not only have we seen some amazing game releases that I couldn’t be more excited for *cough* Watch Dogs *cough* Dishonored *cough* but, we have seen a big focus on casual gaming and second screen technology from both Nintendo with their WiiU and Microsoft’s SmartGlass but, what are they and,  more importantly, which is better?

Microsoft SmartGlass & Streaming Content

SmartGlass integrates your smartphone or tablet into your Xbox 360 experience.  It’s a collection of apps and embedded technologies that lets your digital content migrate from one platform to the next. The devices won’t simply mirror each other, but will provide a complimentary experience. For example, as  you traverse the Skyrim world on your Xbox 360, you’re iPad next to you will show your location and other points-of-interest on a map. We will also see SmartGlass use a second screen to display rich content to users while they watch movies and television shows.  Kind of like a production company controlled, native IMDB-like experience. Gamers, imagine maintaining your inventory, playbook, roster, quest log, and more without navigating away from the main HUD. The idea of translating in-game technology into the real world comes to mind as well. I can imagine seeing Master Cheif in Halo 4 scan the sides of building and watching the read outs on my iPhone, just like I was in the game. The programming possibilities are endless.

Keep in mind that this is just the tip of the iceberg and, just like with the Kinect, we will definitely see hackers turn this technology on it’s head and create programs we never dreamed of. We also saw the potential interaction between SmartGlass and gaming when Microsoft demoed it’s use with Madden 13. A user drew up plays on his tablet, and then executed them traditionally via Xbox 360. This is definitely a step forward for Microsoft’s interactive ecosystem of products, so it’s going to be exciting to see where the technology goes from here.

Microsoft also unveiled some new additions to their lineup of content streamers. Here’s the thing though – It costs $$$ to have an Xbox Live Gold Account (which you need to stream content), and then you have to pay again for each provider subscription. While paying for online gaming is one thing, why are users going to pay extra fees to stream content that they are already paying for? Obviously Microsoft wants to become the media hub of each household but when other products like Roku or Apple TV offer the same providers without the “cover charge” to use them. The new additions are nice but, it may be time to differentiate between hardcore online gamer subscriptions and those who simply want to watch a Netflix movie.

Nintendo WiiU

The only highlight of a lackluster Nintendo conference was the brief introduction to the new WiiU console, aimed at the casual gaming market. The biggest WiiU focus was its touchpad tablet-like controller. This isn’t just a Wii add-on but, is a entirely new (~$300) system.  Just like Mircosoft’s SmartGlass, the WiiU touchpad will add breadth to the game through various functions and features, designed to compliment the traditional experience. The tocuhpad can also be used to play WiiU titles away from the system. Nintendo states that the WiiU will be backwards compatible with OG Wii games, and will work with all types of Wii controllers. The console also features expandable memory vis SD card or USB drive. To me, the touchpad experience will represent a fusion of tablet gaming functions (swiping to cut ropes, tilting to rotate objects, etc.)  into the existing Wii gaming experience. While it may not have much for hardcore gamers, the WiiU definitely gives casual family-room gamers a unique experience.

Which is better?

I think the initial winner here is Microsoft. Their technology doesn’t require users to go out and purchase an entirely new system, instead they can use the smartphone or tablet (chances are) they already have. The WiiU experience will determine if the extra cost is worth it but, based on some specs Nintendo didn’t tell us about, it won’t be.

Quite honestly, it’s too early to pronounce a real winner until we get more time to experience what each system has to offer. We know Nintendo has a good reputation for making technology accessible to anyone, especially casual gamers but their experience tends to end in the casual market with no real attention paid to hardcore gamers. Microsoft, on the other hand, has a reputation for providing excellent technology but, not making it as widely accessible – as anyone who has tried to sync their Xbox with their PC knows.

To me, SmartGlass feels like a grown-up version of the WiiU touchpad. I think that it’s also important to note that Microsoft, by adding SmartGlass, will give media consumers, that avoid the Xbox because of their unfamiliarity with the Xbox 360 controller, a semi-common ground to stand on by using their tablet or smartphone for menu and media navigation. Not only increasing Microsoft’s potential market reach, but further redefining their product as a media hub, rather than strictly a gaming console.

What do you think? Are you excited about either of these? Love? Hate? What do you need to see before you are convinced to purchase one of these? Use the comments below to tell us what you think.

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