Is Microsoft Really Making Xbox Portable Handheld or Just Optimized Cross Platform Software?

xbox-handhld concept art

You know those super cool new handheld gaming devices like the Steam Deck, Asus ROG Ally, and Lenovo Legion Go? The big boss at Xbox, Phil Spencer, is totally obsessed with them! He’s been testing them out nonstop at GDC24.

But here’s the thing – Phil wants to play Xbox games on a tiny portable device to feel just as amazing as playing on a huge TV with an Xbox console.

Is a New Xbox Handheld in the Making?

In a recent interview with Polygon, Xbox boss Phil Spencer dropped some interesting hints about Microsoft’s potential plans for an Xbox handheld device.

At GDC, Phil Spencer couldn’t help but geek out over the impressive new gaming handhelds hitting the market – the Steam Deck, Asus ROG Ally, and Lenovo Legion Go.

As an avid gamer himself, he seems clearly impressed by their portable power.

However, the Xbox boss also candidly expressed his desire for a more true Xbox-like experience on these devices.

Among the desired features, he mentioned:

  • Access to all your Xbox games and associated save files
  • The ability to boot into the Xbox app in a full-screen, compact mode
  • All the social experiences typically found on Xbox consoles

“I want my Legion Go to feel like an Xbox…Are all my games there with the right save data? Fallout 76 doesn’t have cross-save which is driving me crazy.”

This hardware shortcoming seems to be fueling Spencer’s interest in a first-party Xbox handheld.

While Spencer stopped short of officially announcing a handheld device, his comments strongly suggest that Microsoft is exploring the idea.

He acknowledged that the Xbox hardware team is considering “different hardware form factors” and pondering the question,

“What should we build that will find new players and allow people to play at times when they couldn’t go play [in airoplane mode/offinele]?”

Moreover, leaked court documents from last year revealed plans for an Xbox handheld, although Spencer dismissed those plans as outdated at the time.

The Xbox Everywhere Software Play

While the hardware possibilities are tempting, Spencer’s overarching (or cross-platform) philosophy is ensuring a premium Xbox experience no matter where or how you game.

For those opting for third-party handhelds, he wants to dramatically improve the software integration and ecosystem cohesion through optimized Xbox apps and services.

“From a game creator standpoint I can then go build a single version of my game that spans more hardware and reaches more customers… if somebody chooses to go play today [somewhere else], I don’t want them to feel like a lesser Xbox [player].”

Judging by this tone, Spencer seems laser-focused on unifying the full Xbox software/service suite – gaming library, achievements, social features, etc. – into a seamless experience across all capable devices regardless of brands, including Windows handhelds.

The Verdict: Software Ambition Comes First

Reading between the lines, Spencer appears more committed to the software democratization approach in the near term.

His comments position a first-party Xbox handheld as more of an exciting future possibility. The top priority seems to be fortifying the Xbox ecosystem and cloud foundations to ensure a consistently high-quality experience, no matter where you play or what device you own.

That said, Spencer is clearly fascinated by the potential of specialized Xbox handheld hardware optimized for their cloud/local gaming vision.

Perhaps we’ll see Microsoft accelerate those hardware plans if the software groundwork pays off.

Waiting for Official Confirmation?

With Microsoft confirming an Xbox Showcase event for June 2024, speculation is rife that the company might unveil its handheld plans during the event.

Xbox President Sarah Bond has already teased “some exciting stuff coming out in hardware,” adding fuel to the fire.

Previous rumors said it could be the next-gen console or a mid-gen refresh, but with a new topic of a handheld being added, it could possibly be a handheld as well. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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