SmartGlass and 4 other new Microsoft innovations

Apple, Sony, and Google better watch out — the Xbox is pushing hard to become king of the living room

An Xbox executive presents Microsoft's SmartGlass, an app that lets you transfer that Game of Thrones episode you're watching on your tablet to your TV with just one tap.
(Image credit: Photo by Joe Kohen/Invision for Xbox)

On Monday, Microsoft kicked off the Electronic Entertainment Expo with a bang, unveiling a bevy of new products intended to transform your home entertainment system into a totally immersive experience. It now looks like Microsoft and the Xbox are "winning the living room war," says David M. Ewalt at Forbes, leaving rivals like Sony, Apple, and Google in the dust. What sort of breakthroughs are on the way? Here, a brief roundup of the announcements:

1. SmartGlass

Microsoft wants to unify all the devices in your home network so they share content and offer supporting features, says Ian Paul at PC World. And a new app, Xbox SmartGlass, does just that, turning your phone or tablet into a universal remote that also smartly syncs with whatever video you're watching or game you're playing. It basically adds a second screen to your viewing experience, says Dan Ackerman at CNET. If you're playing Halo 4, you can use SmartGlass to pull up real-time stats on your iPhone. If you're watching Game of Thrones, your tablet will display maps and trivia. But will content providers exploit this technology? "So far Xbox Video and HBO Go are in, but what about other video services such as Netflix?"

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2. Xbox Music

The Zune is dead, says Thom Cheredar at VentureBeat. In its place is a new Xbox Music service that "will extend a user's library of songs across multiple platforms, including PCs, smartphones, and tablets running the company's new Windows 8 operating system." It's rumored that the service will stream music similarly to Spotify — boasting a library of 30 million songs — and even integrate with Microsoft's longstanding business partner, Facebook. "Microsoft is probably hoping that the Xbox brand will give its digital music efforts a fresh and exciting new appeal — basically everything that the Zune isn’t."

3. More TV channels

The house that Gates built wants to brand its console as more than a way to play Halo or Call of Duty, say Alex Pham and Ben Fritz at the Los Angeles Times. With Xbox Live, Microsoft's streaming movie and TV service will be adding new television partners, including heavy hitters like Nickelodeon, ESPN, the NBA, and Univision. (For the NBA, you'll need to pay extra for a League Pass.) And thanks to partners like Netflix, "the amount of time spent on Xbox Live with movies, TV shows, and music surpassed [time] spent on playing games this spring for the first time since the console launched seven years ago." Microsoft wants to keep the momentum going.

4. A personalized workout

The world's largest sporting-goods maker is partnering with Microsoft to release a new type of exercise game, says Matt Townsend at Bloomberg Businessweek. Nike+ Kinect Training, due out this holiday season, utilizes the Xbox 360's motion-camera controller to interact with onscreen trainers, who will design personal workout sessions based on a series of physical tests like stretches and push-ups.

5. A new Internet Explorer

Windows' Metro-style Internet Explorer will land on the Xbox this year, says PC World's Paul. Typically, navigating the web through a console is clunky and slow. But the "IE-SmartGlass combo" transforms the web for TV, allowing users to explore the web using the SmartGlass app's virtual touchpad. Email in between Halo 4 campaigns, anyone?

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