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Microsoft SmartGlass and Apple AirPlay: the rise of the second-screen controller

By Evan Wade / August 13, 2013

Second screens, first billing. That’s the mantra coming out of Redmond and Cupertino, where two tech giants have put forth some impressive software aimed at smart-device gamers.

Microsoft’s SmartGlass and Apple’s AirPlay both turn your tablet or smartphone into a controller and digital assistant, but the end products are as different as you’d expect from competing corporate visionaries. As devices continue to converge, we’re bound to see cross-device cooperation like this become the norm.

Microsoft’s SmartGlass App

If you have an Xbox 360, you know the console’s worth as a home media center. The Microsoft SmartGlass App further streamlines the experience with the aid of your Windows 8, iOS or Android device, giving you total control over your console in a touch-optimized environment.

From a gaming standpoint, Microsoft SmartGlass is perfect for viewing player stats while finalizing your roster or referencing maps as you make your way through the latest RPG. Tech writer Dean Evans also lauded the app’s social abilities in a TechRadar post: “Anyone who’s spent time slowly selecting letters for a message using an Xbox joypad and the onscreen keyboard will be overjoyed.”

On the media end, things get even better for interested developers. Xbox Live already lets users stream favorite services like Netflix, Pandora Radio and ESPN3 directly to their TV, and with SmartGlass, they can simultaneously browse expanded content on their mobile device’s screen. Watching HBO’s popular fantasy series, Game of Thrones, with SmartGlass lets users view interactive maps, commentaries, character bios and more from the small screen while the main content plays on the user’s TV.

With a relevant service and the right angle, a SmartGlass-optimized game or Xbox Live stream could mean new ways to reach a tech-savvy audience. Even something as small as expanded product information or device navigation might be all it takes to get conversions.

Apple’s AirPlay

Similar to SmartGlass, Apple’s AirPlay is determined to spur the extinction of the traditional remote by allowing us to control our TVs through our computers and mobile devices. Where AirPlay differs from SmartGlass is the strength of the Apple market. Users can connect everything from an iPod to a MacBook Pro to their entertainment system, making it easy to put every app, song, TV show or movie on display.

This is great for family movie night or showing friends and family photos from your latest vacation, but the dual-screen display support on newer model iPhones and iPads takes gaming even further. In a post, Graham Spencer discusses a number of innovative titles like Real Racing 2, which displays gameplay on the screen and a virtual vehicle dashboard on the device in the user’s hands.

Apple’s $100 home media server, the Apple TV, supports AirPlay streaming right out of the box, meaning you don’t have to leave your computer under the TV to take advantage of all the cool technology at your disposal. You can stream Netflix, HBO Go and countless other third-party programs as easily as you can on SmartGlass.

Device integration, simplified

Microsoft’s SmartGlass and Apple’s AirPlay make it easy for gamers to share content across every screen in their house. All it takes is a console, wi-fi connection and an Apple or XBox Live account. The hardest part is deciding where to put your favorite chair.