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Microsoft makes biggest play in gaming with SmartGlass

Guests line up play Gods War AscensiPlayStatibooth E3 Tuesday Los Angeles. AP

Guests line up to play Gods of War Ascension at the PlayStation booth at E3 on Tuesday in Los Angeles. AP

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Updated: July 7, 2012 8:48AM

Although the overt focus of the arena-rock event E3, thrown in L.A. by Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo was on gaming, the subtext was on the future. How will each of these platforms remain relevant, in a world in which a device that people already own plays games that sell tens of millions of units at just 99 cents a throw?

Nintendo’s answer: with a crazy-belated entry into HD gaming (the Wii U deck) and a huge, touchscreen controller with an integrated color screen (the GamePad). Both will be released in time for the holidays, though pricing is unknown. The bigger unknown: Will developers embrace the GamePad? Unlike the distinctive controllers that made the original Wii a huge hit, the GamePad won’t be included with the Wii U. It’s an option. Players and developers alike might choose the much cheaper option of not embracing the thing at all.

Sony’s taking the broader approach, with a continued push into smartphone gaming. Playstation Mobile (formerly Playstation Suite) attempts to stretch the influence of the Playstation platform into Android and Windows Mobile devices with custom games and content. The Whys and Hows are still a little vague, and mentions of Sony’s Playstation Vita handheld were less-than-vague. Curious, for a mobile platform that was released to so much fanfare so recently.

Microsoft took the most ambitious and aggressive stance. Their presentation would have been just as appropriate for a non-gaming venue. They’re clearly messaging the Xbox beyond a game system and positioning it as “the computer that hooks up to your HDTV.” Toward that end: Bing Search and Kinect voice commands that stretch across all forms of content, plus a new Xbox edition of Internet Explorer which is completely voice-controllable.

And where the Wii GamePad brings second-screen gaming and video through an expensive add-on, Xbox SmartGlass is an app that’ll run on whatever mobile device you already own.

No wonder Microsoft hammered that point home so loudly. In gaming, the Xbox’s biggest competitor is Sony. Its biggest threat as “the computer that hooks up to your TV” is whatever Apple might show off Monday, during their own keynote to Mac and iOS developers.

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