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SmartGlass vs. Wii U: Microsoft and Nintendo’s Very Different Takes on the Second Screen

One of the most intriguing announcements from this year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo was Microsoft’s SmartGlass, a new feature for the Xbox 360 which will connect the console to users’ smartphones or tablets, giving games, apps, and media an interactive second screen. Most of Microsoft’s demos highlighted the sort of the content that we tend to associate with extra features on DVD or Blu-Ray: interviews with the cast of Game of Thrones, say, or a map of the show’s world. Where SmartGlass brings something new is its ability to run dynamically alongside whatever you’re watching: so as Game of Thrones characters travel around Westeros on your TV, you could use your iPad to track their movements on a map. It’s interesting to compare SmartGlass with Nintendo’s forthcoming Wii U, both of which arrive in time for this year’s holiday season.

Different Hardware, Same Goals

The Wii U’s standout feature is its six-inch tablet controller with the traditional analog stick, d-pad, and buttons alongside a touchscreen. Like SmartGlass, the Wii U controller will stream additional content from the console, as well as offer another way to control what’s on the TV. The Wii U will support only two of these controllers (though additional players will be able to use the now-familiar Wiimote), and while Nintendo hasn’t announced a price for the new controller, you have to assume it’ll be pricier than previous accessories: I don’t see how it could be much less than $90 unless Nintendo intends to take a significant loss at first, and even $90 feels like a low estimate.

Both Nintendo and Microsoft seem to be aiming for the same goal — an interactive second screen — but they’re going about it in fascinatingly different ways. In order to use SmartGlass, a user will download a free app for Android, Windows 8, or iOS. If that user already owns a compatible device, there’s no additional cost. It’s a stealth reconfiguration of the system, new hardware without new hardware. Nintendo, on the other hand, is opting for a more traditional refresh. Everything changes at once, and they hope the consumer buys in.

User Experience: Fragmentation vs. Uniformity

The potential benefits for gamers are the same: suddenly an RPG player might be able to switch out inventory on a second screen rather than pause the game and bring up the inventory window. Perhaps more significantly, you could play touch-based games like Angry Birds properly on your Wii U or Xbox — allowing consoles to more easily attract the same developers (and games) that are flocking to phones and tablets.

Of course, with SmartGlass, those without smartphones or tablets are left in the dust. And as with Microsoft’s Kinect, not all Xbox 360 users will have or use the technology — meaning, perhaps, less impetus for developers to implement it in new games and apps. Nintendo’s user experience, by contrast, will be relatively uniform, and it’s hard to imagine a Wii U developer ignoring the touchscreen altogether.

Only time will tell how Nintendo and Microsoft’s respective models fare, but their success or failure will likely hinge on the uses that developers make (or fail to make) of those second screens. I don’t know how long glorified DVD extras will hold users’ attention, but if you can create compelling content that’s made to be swiped and prodded? That’ll be gold.

Written By

Dana Viktor is the senior researcher and writer for duedatecalculator.org. Her most recent accomplishments include graduating from Ohio State University with a degree in communications and sociology. Her current focus for the site involves the chinese calendar gender and sperm banks.

10 Comments

10 Comments

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  2. Alec Farell

    July 9, 2012 at 11:46 pm

    We have to wait and see what these technologies bring new to the table, how will the developers respond/integrate these techs into the games/dashboards and most important: how the users react! As far as I understood until now, Microsoft’s engineers must create apps for all mobile OSs (this includes a lot of screen resolution) which I believe will be a huge challenge and Nintendo, well, they have problems in operating two new big size screen controllers at the same time.

  3. Ashraf

    August 13, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    Nintendo will always be the upper hand in the gaming industry, the Wii U gamepad will keep it simpler for developing a second screen, while it will be harder to make a a second app for every tablet and phone.

  4. Afeez

    December 12, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    The smart glass thing sounds interesting enough.

  5. Will

    April 17, 2013 at 2:28 pm

    @Ashraf: I don’t agree with you for the fact that Nintendo will be the upperhand of the game industry. Not everybody likes to have another screen in their controller when they are already looking at a flatscreen. Furthermore, Sony with their playstation will be an upperhand, but since the PS Vita they will write another history in a negative sense.

  6. Chris Penn

    September 2, 2013 at 1:24 am

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  7. Adonai

    September 16, 2013 at 8:23 am

    this is good information to share..!!!

  8. Rafael Melo

    September 25, 2013 at 2:15 am

    Nintendo is like the Apple of videogames, mantains his simplicity even in so modern times like today

  9. cally

    April 12, 2015 at 10:36 am

    thanks for your helpful information.

  10. Dale

    May 8, 2016 at 12:24 pm

    Wao! What a great article, thanks for this useful pieces.

    Have a nice week ahead!

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