When Microsoft unveiled their “SmartGlass” app that integrates tablets and phones with the with the Xbox 360, some claimed it would make the Wii U with its tablet controller irrelevant. But nothing is further from the truth — the Wii U GamePad is an organic part of the console, SmartGlass is a gimmick, at best. The Wii U offers developers new possibilities from the very beginning, while SmartGlass for the Xbox 360 is something that has to be tackled later on. Another issue with SmartGlass is that whatever device players use, whether it’s a tablet or a phone, it’s still not an integrated controller, with analog sticks, buttons, etc. The only thing it can do is display secondary information — a map, inventory screen etc. Players will have to fumble between the Xbox 360 controller and the tablet all the time. It’s easy to see how this will get tiresome after a few gameplay sessions.
“The Wii U tablet is an organic part of the console, SmartGlass is a gimmick, at best”Despite this, Microsoft still believes that SmartGlass is better than the Wii U, as Yusuf Mehdi, one of Microsoft’s marketing folks, said “I believe this approach is actually better, because what we’re doing is embracing it as truly a supporting screen”. Only Mehdi forgets that you still need to hold an Xbox 360 controller in your hand while trying to look and/or use the secondary SmartGlass device. The Wii U doesn’t have this problem, because the tablet and the game controller are integrated seamlessly into one device, it’s not just a random secondary screen that’s been added.
Eventually, it’ll all come down to the games and how they utilize the new technology. Nintendo has created the Wii U entirely around the controller and the possibilities of that technology. Game makers can be sure that every single Wii U console will support a tablet controller, while they can’t be sure that any Xbox 360 gamer will use SmartGlass at all. This severely limits SmartGlass’ use — it will never offer any major gameplay advantage since the developer can’t count on that the player actually has a secondary device. But they’ll know for sure that every Wii U owner has at least one GamePad controller. The only feature SmartGlass can add is a minor secondary functionality that has no major impact on gameplay, so whether you use a secondary screen with your Xbox 360 or not, it won’t really matter. But it’ll matter a lot for the Wii U.
In the end, SmartGlass appears to be something Microsoft cooked up when they saw the direction Nintendo was taking at E3 2011. It’s nothing but a desperate attempt to try and compete with the Wii U later this year.