Now, I know what you may be thinking. “Microsoft is entering the handheld business?” This is not that. Microsoft is not making a dedicated handheld device. What Microsoft is doing is making a Switch competitor as a byproduct of its own endeavors with the Windows platform. I should say potentially because it does depend on if Microsoft and Windows are successful with their future plans. So what are the dots and how do we connect them? The dots are Windows OS, Continuum, Universal Windows Platform, Minecraft and the fabled Andromeda device.
Microsoft is building their future of Windows with Windows Core OS, basically a more modernized version of windows that is flexible to the device that it is running. If a device is a 2 in 1, it would have a tablet mode, if that device’s screen was put into the keyboard, it would have a desktop mode. This should sound familiar because that is basically what Continuum is. The difference is that Microsoft is rumored to be building this for all device types and input types. You can have that same 2 in 1 be a tablet, or desktop, or potentially show an Xbox like UI when an Xbox controller is connected.
You have this OS, and you have this feature Continuum (which Satya Nadella has been on record with Mary Jo Foley of being a true differentiator of their devices, at the time phones), you need a development platform for these games to be built on. That’s where the Universal Windows Platform comes into play (and to a smaller degree PWAs but we need more information on that). UWP is a way to make “Continuum Enabled Apps”. Make games that can adapt to the mode in which the device is running. This too should sound familiar as it is basically what the Switch platform does between its two modes (docked and portable). Developers are already used to developing multiple profiles for a console and PC, and they could do the same thing here.
You can’t make a device without games, and what better game to sell a device more than Minecraft. Minecraft is already on every platform you can think of (that has some type of marketshare) and the team at Mojang can lead Microsoft Studios and other developers on what you can do with UWP on the newer Windows OS. This version of the game would be the same version that runs on Xbox, and PC (Microsoft Store), and potentially, the rumored project Andromeda device. The project Andromeda device is a dual screened PC that, according to the rumors, will act as a tablet, a phone, and a PC via Continuum. This would be the category defined by the device that would be Switch like.
How is this compared to Switch? Well, with Andromeda and Continuum, you have the ability to be a portable or a docked device. There’s only one caveat, input. With the Switch, you use the same controller (joycons) for the console in either docked or portable mode, whereas this device, we don’t know what input it would take. Will it be touch controls while on the go or will you have to connect an Xbox controller to it. The Xbox controller input for when your device is docked makes sense, but does it make sense when you are on the go? In my opinion, I believe that the best course of action would be to let the user decide which input that they want to use, touch or controller.
So how is this a competitor to Switch? Well, it is and it isn’t. This is just a byproduct of the rumored Andromeda device. But this is more than just the Andromeda device, it’s the Windows platform. Every portable device that is made with this future Windows OS will have that potential. The reason why I say potential is because Windows isn’t known to be a factor in the mobile market, they have to be successful there in order for Nintendo to even flinch. Andromeda doesn’t need to be the next Nintendo Switch, or iPhone, it just needs to influence people to buy mobile Windows devices made by Microsoft or their OEMs.
If successful, Microsoft can gain game developers to not only make their games for Xbox, but also PC, and scale across their devices. But that’s a huge if. That’s one of the “ifs” that Microsoft is betting on. It’s also one of the reasons why I believe Microsoft is betting big on gaming. It will take a lot for Microsoft to pull this off, but if they do plan on releasing some games in a “switch” type of mode, you will have Microsoft going against Switch with the Andromeda device category, Steam/PC Gaming with the Microsoft Store, and Sony with the Xbox console. Seeing as Microsoft is not winning nor in a close second in any of those categories, they have a lot of work ahead of them and some luck.