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Coming To Digital Screens In Your Living Room: Microsoft's SmartGlass

It's Microsoft's smart plan to tie the Xbox to every glass screen in the home: PC, tablet or smartphone.

Just weeks ago I wrote that by turning your Xbox 360 into a media entertainment center that controls and feeds your television.

I was wrong. Microsoft doesn't want to stop at just the television.

With the SmartGlass app it just introduced at E3, the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, it wants the Xbox to feed your PC, your tablet and your smartphone at home, too.

SmartGlass, which is really a collection of apps either added to or embedded in every platform, turns your tablet or smartphone into a second screen for your Xbox, feeding you additional information, allowing you to use it as a remote control, or serving as a portable screen you can take with you. SmartGlass will be able to run on Android, Apple iOS and Windows Phone devices, and will be integrated into the new Windows 8 and its tablet cousin, Windows RT, coming this fall.

You might call it Windows everywhere. Microsoft sure would like it if you did.

With SmartGlass, you can start watching a movie on your TV, stop the movie, and pick it up on your tablet while you're on the road. When playing a game on your TV, your smartphone or tablet can give you maps or schematics or other data that would clutter the action on the TV screen. Or you can use your tablet's touchscreen to do something like diagram your own football play for Madden NFL.

Beyond that, you can use your touchscreen as a keyboard for surfing the Web, or to message a game partner, or search for new Xbox music or TV shows you'd like to watch.

The Web? Music? TV shows?

-- Microsoft also announced it would be bringing its Internet Explorer web browser to the Xbox big screen this fall along with SmartGlass, completely controllable on your smartphone or tablet or through the Kinect speech and motion controller.

-- As for music, Xbox already has Pandora and Last.fm. At E3 Microsoft announced it also has partnered with the Rhapsody music service, and was scrapping its failed Zune music store and replacing it with an Xbox music store with more than 30 million titles.

-- As for TV, Microsoft has been piling on the Internet video channels for more than six months now, and at E3 announced it was adding on-demand services from Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, Paramount movies, Univision, the NBA, NHL and ESPN. That's in addition to the Amazon Instant Streaming announced a week ago, as well as existing partnerships with Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, HBO Go and Xfinity, among others.

And it can play games.

A year or two ago, when so-called smart, Internet-connected TVs began to enter the picture, the folks at Microsoft realized the Xbox is already hooked up to some 70 million televisions, and it can hook up to the Internet, and -- hey -- it can do that with a few content partnerships added here, a few apps there. And so a 7-year-old video game console was transformed into a high-tech Trojan horse.

Coincidentally at the time, Microsoft was looking like a dinosaur in a tech world increasingly dominated by Apple, Google and Facebook. The market share for Windows Phone was nearly non-existent. Windows 7 and Microsoft Office were centered on the desktop, while the rest of the world was going mobile and doing more computing centered on the Internet. Microsoft's only real bright spot was the Xbox, which was becoming the dominant gaming platform worldwide.

Microsoft since has been working furiously to remake the company. Windows 8 and its tablet cousin, Windows RT, promise to make big inroads into the tablet market, particularly with business customers, when they're introduced this fall. On the consumer side, Xbox Live, the online service for Xbox, was remade into a media entertainment service and store much like Apple's iTunes, Google's Play and Amazon's entertainment offerings. And now SmartGlass promises to hitch Windows 8 and Windows Phone to the Xbox success story, using Xbox Live.

At the same time, Microsoft has experimented with offering an Xbox-Kinect bundle for just $99 with a two-year commitment to a $14.99 monthly premium subscription to Xbox Live. At first the deal was only available at Microsoft's 17 retail stores nationwide. Apparently the experiment has been successful, as the company just announced it is rolling out the deal nationwide through Best Buy and GameStop stores.

If Microsoft can pull it off, SmartGlass has the potential to be a "killer app," the one piece of the puzzle that makes a device indispensable. It could be a brilliant success, tying together Windows 8, Windows Phone, the cloud, Internet TV and one of the company's most successful brands of recent years, the Xbox.

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