Kotaku has learned from a reliable source that, either at E3 or in the very near future, Microsoft plans to unveil a new feature known as Xbox Live Companion. Not to be confused with its social and marketplace app Xbox Companion, Xbox Live Companion is a system where developers of Xbox 360 console games can stream content directly to a mobile phone or tablet.
This source tells us the feature was internally known as Smart Glass, lending some credibility to rumours last week of an ability to stream content from your console to a phone or tablet. From what our source tells us, though, it appears Microsoft's ambitions for such a feature are a little more focused on games.
Xbox Live Companion would work like this: owners of iOS, Android or Windows phones (or tablets) download the Xbox Live Companion application to their devices. Then, developers of console games will have the option of coding in features that would allow those games to send content to the app while the game was running, transforming it into a personalised "companion" of the title being played.
An example we heard from this source was Halo 4: start playing the game on Xbox 360 and, if you've got XBLC on your phone or tablet, it will become a Halo 4 companion application. Turn the game off and switch to something else that the app supports and it suddenly becomes your companion for that game.
Examples of more exclusive features include in-game inventory management or access to stuff like hacking minigames.
The reason for this "skinning" is the variety of platforms, requirements and resolutions there are spread across phones and tablets. Rather than ask individual developers to come up with their own Android, iPhone, iPad and Windows Phone versions of each "companion", Microsoft's app will be cross-compatible with all of them; game developers need only write their code for the Xbox Live Companion App and Microsoft will take it from there.
So what would these companion apps actually do? Because it's tapping into the same servers your account and games are running on, it can bring up things like maps and status screens for the game you're playing. Basically, then, a contemporary version of what Nintendo once hoped it would be able to achieve between the GameCube and GameBoy. Or what it's doing now with the Wii U. Or what Sony has been dabbling in with its consoles and handhelds.
The key difference here, though, is that almost all of its consumers already own one of the necessary handheld devices needed to take advantage of the service.
We've heard from our source that all Xbox Live users will be able to access these basic features. Gold subscribers, meanwhile, will get access to more advanced content. Examples of more exclusive features include in-game inventory management or access to stuff like hacking minigames, along with content streamed directly from the game to your phone/tablet, like additional video playback or a racing game's rearview mirror (though apparently the latter two are examples of features that may not make the app's launch).
This, however, is just the start. Microsoft hopes to, once the basics of the application are up and running, use Xbox Live Companion to let you stream further content or even, where supported, entire Xbox games directly from your console to a compatible device, much like streaming service OnLive already allows.
While there will be some Xbox 360 games that work with the application, given the long-term nature of Microsoft's plans it will also obviously be a part of the company's next console, code-named Durango.
We don't know when the application will be launching, nor whether it will be free or not. Hopefully Microsoft's E3 press conference this week will give us a little more information!