Although Microsoft’s Xbox SmartGlass Big-New-Thing has been out for Android devices for a week or two already, I had to wait until it launched for iOS yesterday until I could get my hands on it. Get my hands on it – get it? The free app basically turns your iPhone or iPad into a sort of remote control, or – as the buzz-wordy marketing stuff goes – creates new experiences and ways to interact with your Xbox console.
Setting it up is actually very simple – the app is an update to the old Xbox LIVE Companion app if you’ve got that, or you can download it from the iTunes shop. Assuming you’ve already linked the app to your existing Xbox LIVE gamertag and you’re signed in on your console, you’ll have the option to connect it to your Xbox as soon as the app is loaded without adding any additional setup info.
Somewhat inexplicably, the Xbox Marketplace is still MIA, which seems like a very obviously missed opportunity on Microsoft’s part to make browsing and buying things that much easier. Maybe there’s some really compelling reason why it’s not included, but seriously, it’s Microsoft. It’s like they don’t want my money or something.
From the main menu, you can touch the controller icon to launch an on-screen controller, and swipe left and right to navigate the console dashboard on your TV, in the same way that pushing the anologue sticks on your regular Xbox controller would. Why wouldn’t you just use a regular Xbox controller then? There’s no fun in that.
More importantly, though, this is pretty useful to control media playback if you use a wireless controller that switches itself off after a period of time, and you can also use the on-screen keyboard instead of the terrible pop-up keyboard on the Xbox or – even more inconveniently – a USB keyboard. That’s a super-massive plus.
The app’s most significant feature, however, is probably the additional game content. Although most games don’t (yet) support it, I was very happily surprised to discover, quite by accident, that launching Halo 4 on my Xbox automatically made this happen:
I suppose it remains to be seen what sort of additional content support we’ll be getting in the future, but in the meantime, it’s worth getting just for the keyboard, and it’s free anyway. Win-win.