Before the Xbox 720 there may be an Xbox Surface

When it comes to gaming hardware our minds generally go to three companies: Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft. All three have established a line of home console systems that follow the same general business model of charging a licensing fee to third party developers. Sure the hardware varies between the three but in many ways they're more similar than they are different.

Then there's mobile gaming, and here Microsoft stands alone. Both Nintendo and Sony produce handheld gaming hardware, though Nintendo definitely rules the roost with Sony a definite 'also ran,' but Microsoft has never offered a dedicated portable gaming system.

That may be changing if a report from The Verge is accurate. But what's really interesting is that if the rumor is true, Microsoft's first "handheld gaming console" will actually be a tablet.

It's called Xbox Surface and it's a 7-inch tablet, probably ARM-based (but that's subject to change) with "high-bandwidth RAM designed specifically for gaming tasks." It won't run Windows 8 and it won't run Windows RT. Instead it'll run on a custom Windows kernel. The Verge has a few more (rumored) details, but you get the gist of it.

So it sounds like Microsoft is content to let Nintendo and Sony squabble over the 'hardcore' handheld gamers and they're going after the same general audience that Apple is chasing with its iPod Touch line. Sure Apple doesn't go so far as to call the Touch a gaming device, but Apple hardware president Greg Joswick has gone on record as saying of the Touch "...a lot of people don’t realize that it’s also the world’s most popular video game player as well."

There's no word yet on software support or anything along those lines but The Verge's source says Xbox Surface will be out before the Xbox 720, which everyone expects to arrive for Holiday 2013. If that's the case either developer kits for Xbox Surface ought to going out soon, or the system is similar enough to Windows RT/Windows Phone 8 that special kits aren't need. Maybe the Xbox Surface will play the same games as a 'full' Surface tablet and the pared down OS is just to goose more speed out of less expensive hardware.

I've just wandered into pure speculation at this point and I'm not a game developer so I could be spouting nonsense, so I'll stop for now. It just seems like a curious product to me. Maybe it's intended as a dedicated Smart Glass accessory for Xbox gamers?

Possibly related in some way, the folks over at Liveside have turned up Microsoft job postings for something called Cloud TV, which is presumably some kind of streaming TV service. That might be a nice added feature for your Xbox Surface, right?

So, any interest in a dedicated gaming tablet from Microsoft?

Read more of Peter Smith's TechnoFile blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Peter on Twitter at @pasmith. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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