Smartphone and tablet devices have really taken off in the past five years.
Going from near obscurity to mainstream way of life in a very short period of time. It is not uncommon to see a half-dozen people or more with their nose in a Smartphone where they used to be in a newspaper or book on the subway or bus.
Well it looks like the three big console publishers, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, have taken notice. This year at E3 each of them outlined how they plan on keeping players connected through Smartphones and Tablets, syncing them with the video game experience.
This may be most significant for Nintendo, since they have traditionally been most resistant to incorporating Smartphones into their business strategy. For over a year, Nintendo has had to deal with investors demanding they adopt a Smartphone friendly business model and they have finally solidified their mobile strategy.
Two days before Nintendo’s E3 show, they announced some of the functionality of their new Wii U console launching later this year (You can read our breakdown of that announcement here). The most significant announcement was the new online social network called Miiverse, where players can leave passive messages, see what friends and strangers are playing, and exchange content.
During the pre-E3 presentation, Nintendo President Saturo Iwata confirmed that Miiverse will also be accessible though the Nintendo 3DS and as an app on Smartphone devices “sometime after the Wii U launches.” He did not go into detail on which kinds of Smartphones will support the software, but it is still significant. Everything about Miiverse, from the social media influences to Smartphone integration, are light years ahead of the traditionally modest Nintendo method of online support.
However, Nintendo was not the only one with plans for supporting Smartphone devices in the coming year. In fact, both Sony and Microsoft announced their own strategies for incorporating Smartphones and tablets.
Maybe the most ambitious strategy is Microsoft’s SmartGlass software being incorporated into the Xbox 360. The concept behind SmartGlass seems to be one part Wii U like functionality, one part mobile entertainment experience. SmartGlass is an application that will allow users to sync their Xbox 360 with Windows Mobile, Android and iOS devices, including Smartphones and tablets. Unlike Nintendo’s strategy, SmartGlass seems to be an experience enhancer. One of the basic examples of how their device synchronization would work was allowing players to transfer a video they were watching on a tablet device on the bus to their Xbox 360 when they get home to finish watching their show seamlessly on their big screen. More complex interactions include getting preliminary data on videos or games they are running on their Xbox 360 to a tablet or Smartphone device.
Essentially, what Microsoft did was announce tablet enhanced controls, like inputting plays on Madden using a tablet, the day before Nintendo got a chance to blow-out their Wii U console, featuring a similar enhancement. And on top of that, with SmartGlass players can take advantage of the technology using hardware they may already own, rather than having to buy a whole new console. Granted, the Wii U has the benefit of having their tablet and game pad integrated into a single controller, but it was a big step against the new console. Another interesting point was that SmartGlass will work with just about any Smart device, not just the Microsoft branded Windows Mobile. Already we know that Halo 4 and Madden 13 will support the software, but time will tell how much support it will get in future games.
Sony’s Playstation Mobile
Finally, Sony made a new announcement for a new brand of Playstation certified Android phones called Playstation Mobile. Like last year’s Xperia Play Smartphone, Playstation Mobile will be a new line of THC Android devices that will be able to access the Playstation Store and play games developed using the Playstation Mobile Development Kit. It is hard to say how Playstation Mobile will be received, since the Xperia Play was met with a fairly lukewarm reception. How it integrates into the existing Playstation Network account may be key. Forcing players to purchase special Android hardware, rather than having Playstation Mobile integrate into a wider variety of Android devices, may hold Playstation Mobile back.
It was made clear at E3 2012 that into 2013 players can expect to see video games moving into a mobile environment aside from simply playing games on mobile and dedicated gaming handhelds. The Wii U and Xbox 360 social experience will be going beyond the living room and Sony’s Playstation Mobile will expand into more devices than just the Playstation 3 and PS Vita. In 2013 this may become just as important to gaming as functions like Xbox Live and the Playstation Network.