Connecting The Dots: Why Microsoft May Be Making a Switch Competitor in Passing

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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. 

-cw 

Comments (30)

30 responses to “Connecting The Dots: Why Microsoft May Be Making a Switch Competitor in Passing”

  1. Avatar

    seapea

    hmmm ....

    how much of a factor would size be? i hardly ever see anyone playing interactive action type games on phones. not even racing games.

    • Avatar

      woelfel

      In reply to seapea:

      The size can matter, yes, but it's about the platform more than the specific device. OEMs like Razer who have a focus on gaming can make a device that is Switch like in form factor. The games they would be playing are the ones that are on the Microsoft Store that are playable on that device. Remember, it's not only the portability, but being able to use Continuum to bring that experience to a larger screen.

  2. Avatar

    Chris_Kez

    Another way Microsoft could overcome the poor game selection in the Windows Store (it's always about the apps, isn't it?) would be to find a way to port Xbox 360 and/or original Xbox games to the Store and get them to run on lower-powered PCs (whether ARM-based or Intel-based). Without a good game library this idea just doesn't go anywhere.

    • Avatar

      woelfel

      In reply to Chris_Kez:

      Microsoft is working on Backward Compatibility for PC, Phil Spencer did speak about it a while ago. Obviously without games, the Store isn't attractive...but the idea isn't based on specifically lower powered PCs. OEMs like Razer don't make low powered stuff, they would be the perfect OEM to realize this idea more than any other OEM.


      It's obvious if you don't have games, the idea doesn't work...but the capability doesn't go away because they don't have games. That's what I'm trying to say. The platform allows this functionality and it will be there no matter if games are ready for the platform or they aren't. This is why I state that it's a competitor (potentially) as a byproduct of the things that I talked about namely Continuum on mobile pcs. It's not like if MS can't get games on the store that can be played on smaller devices, we will say that they failed against the Switch...it's all about the platform and what it allows game developers to do it. I state that if MS wants to show off this capability, Minecraft would be a great example of it.

  3. Avatar

    Chris_Kez

    Nice post. I like where you're going but I think this only works if Microsoft develops a game streaming service for Windows. The problem is the lack of Windows games that can run on low-powered hardware. These new mobile PCs will never sell in sufficient volume to just organically grow demand to the point where developers become interested. Maybe they'll sell in the ten's of millions at best? Developers are currently ignoring hundreds of millions of Windows 10 PCs that are just as powerful as these new mobile PCs will be. A game streaming service tremendously lowers the hardware requirements. Now you're talking about running games on ARM-based PC's and PC's with integrated graphics, as long as they have sufficient bandwidth.

    If this whole thing is dependent on a special sub-set of low-powered Windows Store games running locally then at best we'll see a handful of attempts by major PC vendors or perhaps a few Kickstarter projects.

    • Avatar

      woelfel

      In reply to Chris_Kez:

      I do believe that Microsoft is already working on game streaming through Game Pass (I talked a little bit about that in my other post about MS getting rid of the Xbox Live multiplayer paywall) so we are definitely in agreement there.


      I think that independent developers would see use out of this but let me be clear...it's all about how Microsoft executes this at the platform level. I don't think that it will be dependent on special sub-set of lower powered PCs.

      • Avatar

        Chris_Kez

        In reply to woelfel:

        The reason I focus on lower powered devices is that it is not possible to fit PC gaming-class performance into a sub 8 inch device. Nor is it possible to sell PC gaming-class performance for <$500-$800 in any form factor.

        If your vision is a $1500 Razor gaming tablet, then you should just be clear about that up front because that is not in any way a Switch competitor. That is a device doomed to failure. The market for $1000+ gaming devices is PC gamers, and they want keyboard and mouse. Sure, some of these Windows advancements would make it a bit smoother to transition to a connected playing session, and might make for a better interface but it isn't fundamentally growing the Windows gaming market or bringing more mobile, casual and console gamers into the fold.

        • Avatar

          woelfel

          In reply to Chris_Kez:

          It doesn't have to be an expensive device.

          • Avatar

            Chris_Kez

            In reply to woelfel:

            I get the sense we're talking past one another. For my part I should have begun with "Yes, and..." rather than "Sure, but...". I like what you've laid out and I agree with it. I would just add that if Microsoft wanted this to be more than a competitor "in passing" it needs to address the lack of games available for such a device.

            • Avatar

              woelfel

              In reply to Chris_Kez:

              Yes, of course. They will definitely have to have games that are playable on the device to make it seem like a competitor. They have to lead. I have asked the PC dev on Sea of Thieves to see if they were supporting the game on ARM and at this point in time, they aren't. I could see the investment happen if the device category starts selling. But yes, I'm in agreement that they need to sell games.

  4. Avatar

    maethorechannen

    If there was a market for this, wouldn't these devices already exist? I'm not sure what Andromeda is bringing to the table, other than a heavier reliance on a development platform that relatively few developers seem interested in (and is already fully supported by Windows as it currently stands).


    If people are buying a device that has Windows for gaming, then they're going to expect to run the games that are already out there (or they're buying a device to use as an Xbox One accessory with Xbox's streaming feature). You're going to have a quite a challenge getting something that can decently run modern Windows games in a Switch form factor.

    • Avatar

      woelfel

      In reply to maethorechannen:

      The device that already exist for which there is a market is the Switch. Andromeda is just having the "Switch" ability as a byproduct of the Windows platform (Continuum).


      This isn't going to be a "device for gaming"...it's just that you can do gaming on it just like tablets/phones and such but it will have the ability to connect the device to a larger screen and adjust it to have the same experience as if you were on the desktop/console.

      • Avatar

        Chris_Kez

        In reply to woelfel:

        You can already connect your gaming laptop to a monitor or TV. I'm not sure this thread means what I thought it meant.

        • Avatar

          woelfel

          In reply to Chris_Kez:

          Of course you can connect your gaming laptop to a monitor or TV...I'm talking about the platform that MS has and the category of device that MS is trying to spearhead as they did with 2 in 1s with Surface Pro. That category, exemplified by Andromeda, will have smaller devices that are mobile that can connect to TVs to play a game but have an experience that is similar to a console. People aren't bringing their gaming laptop with them everywhere and they definitely aren't connecting them to TVs wirelessly like continuum can (not saying most people will connect wirelessly).


          You saying that people can connect their gaming laptop to a monitor or TV didn't stop the Nintendo Switch from being successful.

          • Avatar

            Chris_Kez

            In reply to woelfel:

            Being able to connect a gaming laptop to a monitor didn't inhibit the Switch because it is a $300 dedicated gaming device with great games.

            I understand completely what you are saying- that the coming improvements to Windows 10 will allow PC vendors to make a Switch-like device with minimal difficulty, just because all of the connective tissue will be there at a platform level. My point is that this fortuitous set of circumstances will be no more impactful than Continuum or Windows Phone unless there are games to be played. To paraphrase Paul, it will be neat but pointless. And those games will not be forthcoming just because there is suddenly the capability to create this class of device. In a head to head comparison of price, features and more importantly gaming libraries-- why would anyone choose a Dell or Lenovo or Razer "Switch" over a Nintendo Switch? Because the Windows PC would be more capable? We've seen there is almost no interest in small-form Windows PCs, or in Continuum-like experiences. I understand there will be some tiny number of people who would already be interested in a small and mobile PC, and yes they will be glad that it could potentially have Switch-like gaming capabilities, but this is not going to be "a thing" unless or until Microsoft does something dramatic to improve the gaming library.

            Honestly, I am someone who actually has been interested in Continuum, and would love to see an Xbox Switch, but this market isn't going to naturally and organically satisfy either of the two paths to success as a gaming device. You either need an expensive and powerful device that can deliver the full range of existing PC games, or you need an inexpensive and low-power device that can deliver a somehow expanded catalog of "mobile-class" games. A device that splits the difference and offers a poor selection of mobile games at a mid-tier price will not develop any kind of following or ecosystem among any class of gamer.

            Given Microsoft's continued talk about the importance of gaming, I would like to think they will do something-- I just don't know what it will be. They could develop a game streaming service that will democratize gaming, or they could make a dedicated Xbox Switch that leverages the Xbox catalog and existing user base. Just building the platform pieces will not get it done.

            • Avatar

              woelfel

              In reply to Chris_Kez:

              It's only non-impactful if the device category isn't successful, which I stated. If you have a large amount of people who buy into the category and devices are selling, devs will target the platform and it will compete with Switch. It really is that simple, it depends on the device category being successful, just that simple.

      • Avatar

        Nonmoi

        In reply to woelfel:

        Not really, the closest thing that you described is actually a GDP pocket PC.

        Sony tried similar thing long ago, remember PSP phone?

        • Avatar

          woelfel

          In reply to Nonmoi:

          Yes, and I'm not saying that MS is building a device that is straight up for gaming. Just like how a smartphone isn't for gaming but can be used as such. The difference is that it will be more Switch like with how it can dock to a tv and play the same game with better quality (depending on the device). And that this ability is at the platform level so OEMs can build their own as well.

          • Avatar

            Nonmoi

            In reply to woelfel:

            So, GDP pocket PC with Steam OS then... No I got you, AMD low wattage something something with Xbox One OS, and also needs to be able to sale at the price range of the NS.


            I am just a bit curious that if you have any experience working in shops which at its "good days" had developed a handheld game or 2?

      • Avatar

        maethorechannen

        In reply to woelfel:


        If it's not going to be a device for gaming then it's not really a competitor to the Switch. In the same way that a bus isn't really a competitor to my car.

  5. Avatar

    Paul Thurrott

    Good stuff!


    On a related note, I wrote a bit about the notion of Microsoft doing a portable gaming platform here:


    https://www.thurrott.com/xbox/151334/nintendo-switch-upended-video-game-market


    Paul

    • Avatar

      woelfel

      In reply to paul-thurrott:

      Yep! I remember that article and it has great points in there. Microsoft isn't addressing the handheld market head on, and I think that their solution is through their platform that they are building. We'll see how it does though, Microsoft has had the technology to compete at a lot of things but never "gets it"... :)

  6. Avatar

    Tony Barrett

    A Microsoft handheld running Win10, or some Xbox derivative? Not so sure. Unless it's some throwback to the Xbox360, MS would have to start from scratch on the games. XBONE/X games would be unlikely to work in such a small device. Even the PS Vita doesn't run PS4 games as it's not powerful enough. People will sacrifice quality for convenience any day of the week for a device we can carry around with us. I just don't think MS would be happy starting from the ground up again.

    Google are rumored to be working on a handheld gaming device. Now that *is* interesting. Obviously running Android, it would gave access to tens of thousands of Play Store games immediately, and by it's nature, it would be a portable device. Makes sense in a lot of ways.

    • Avatar

      woelfel

      In reply to ghostrider:

      I specifically said this isn't Microsoft making a handheld (it's literally the first line). No, this wouldn't be an Xbox derivative and no it's not some throwback to Xbox 360. This is about games being made for the PC platform that can scale (which they already do) to handle different device types and power. This isn't making "powerful Xbox One" games for a smaller device. It's developers making games and it can scale from small form factors to bigger ones. I used Minecraft as an example as that is a game that has proven to scale.


      This is not Microsoft starting over again as this isn't some new platform. This is Microsoft already making a platform and because of how they are creating that platform, they have the ability to compete with the Nintendo Switch. Are they going to come out and say "this is how we are doing against the switch?" No. The Andromeda device has a lot of unknowns, but what we do know does leave credence that it can compete with the Switch.


      I will also state that the Nintendo Switch isn't some powerhouse of a device either. As ARM processors get stronger, making games on par or stronger than the Switch is definitely possible.


      Google making a handheld gaming device isn't interesting to me because Google doesn't have any IPs at this time for gamers to care. Google, like Microsoft, would have to prove to gamers that they are serious, and to the gaming industry at large. Android games, which are mobile games, aren't really what gamers would call "good games"...they are frowned upon. How do I know? Well, if you look at any gaming forum or chat or reddit, gamers usually call out the Microsoft Store game section a mobile app section in a negative way. So as much as you think that Google making a handheld device *is* interesting...you will be surprised to see how much the gaming community does not care for Android type games.


      • Avatar

        maethorechannen

        In reply to woelfel:

        you will be surprised to see how much the gaming community does not care for Android type games.


        Which gaming community? I doubt there's much overlap between the people who are scouring electronic stores for affordable graphics cards and the people who use Switch.


        While a Google gaming device would require some good IP to really make a splash, I don't think you're looking at the kind of IP most people who call themselves gamers would be all that interested in.

      • Avatar

        shameermulji

        In reply to woelfel:

        I don't know about Android but on iOS, gaming is one of the biggest revenue drivers for the iOS App Store, so there are a lot of people that do like mobile games.

        • Avatar

          woelfel

          In reply to shameermulji:

          Yes, and mobile gaming is a different market than "hardcore" gamers which I would quantify as people who mostly game on PC and console. That's the market I was referring to. I know that there are a lot of people who like mobile games.

  7. Avatar

    SocialDanny123

    Actually this makes sense. I can see an Xbox handheld running Windows 10 S (With Xbox orientated UI) that can run all normal MS Store UWP apps and current lightweight games on it. Though for alignment of Mobile strategy, I don't think it'll have psychical controllers.


    Though I think they can do both an Andromeda device and a small tablet that competes with Switch with a dock.

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