Mobile Talk: Why an Xbox Surface tablet is good news for Microsoft
In this instalment of Mobile Talk, Paul explains why Microsoft's rumoured Xbox Surface tablet might be the best thing for Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8
A recent and rather convincing report that Microsoft is hard at work on an Xbox Surface tablet has only boosted my enthusiasm for the company’s combined Windows Phone 8 and Windows 8 platforms.
While I’ve previously been very vocal about how much I like Windows in its most recent and highly revamped mobile iterations, I’ve still had to admit that it’s not without its problems and the main one is that the app ecosystem simply hasn’t been kicked into a higher gear yet.
This factor doesn’t render the platforms unusable, far from it, but it does take the sheen off slightly and worse still it may make things difficult for Microsoft to popularise its new software or the hardware running it.
Microsoft has done plenty to put the tools in place so that developers will be able to quickly create rich app and gaming content across both systems.
Some of the development capabilities, particularly those relating to high-quality gaming and VoIP integration, simply can’t be found on any other platform, so there are unexploited elements which would make Windows Phone 8 more appealing.
However, getting developers involved requires also giving them the confidence that their content will sell, by ensuring it has an audience, which in turn requires making sure enough people are using the platform in the first place – and part of that battle is the number of apps available. It’s a classic Catch 22.
That’s where, in my view, the Xbox Surface concept comes in as a genius move, assuming it's real.
I am fairly certain that consumers and developers alike won’t take much convincing that an Xbox Surface tablet is something they want or want to develop for. It’s such a popular brand already, it is dominant in the console space.
And if, as it has been suggested, the Xbox Surface tablet actively extends the experience to the portable sphere people are definitely going to sit up and pay attention.
The Xbox Surface tablet will allegedly run on a custom build of Windows 8, meaning it’ll be based on the same NT kernel as Windows 8, Windows RT and Windows Phone 8.
I think developers will bring new builds of their existing popular Xbox titles to the Xbox Surface tablet simply to keep in step with the best-selling platform – because Microsoft is offering them the widest possible audience.
Importantly, in doing so they’ll also be creating content which can be easily ported or cross-developed for Windows tablets and phones. Linking this content will also be easy due to the Xbox Live account system, Xbox Music + Video and Xbox SmartGlass for cross-device control, all of which are accessible from all Windows and Xbox devices.
Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 will directly benefit from the Xbox Surface tablet’s enthusiastic uptake because it’ll simply be able to absorb content from the surge of new development.
But this progression will have more than one facet. You’ve only got to see Microsoft’s recent TV ads for Xbox and Kinect, where it’s branded as much as a method of browsing the web, using location services, consuming multimedia and various other typical computer and mobile device activities, to see that Microsoft is heading for a cohesive, cross-device platform experience.
Indeed, previous rumours have suggested Microsoft has plans to push the Xbox as not only a gaming platform but a multi-role set-top-box to compete with Google TV and Apple’s iTV.
This sort of thing will easily translate into the cross-compatibility of the Xbox Surface tablet and Windows mobile devices.
What’s more, the Xbox 720 is rumoured to be on the way and may even land in tandem with the Xbox Surface tablet, giving everything a hefty boost in the consumer and developer desirability stakes and propelling the Windows app ecosystem even further.