Respected San Jose Mercury gaming news journalist Dean Takahashi has unveiled some interesting details about Microsoft’s forthcoming handheld gaming device, which he uncovered in the reporting for his forthcoming book The Xbox 360 Uncloaked: The Real Story Behind Microsoft's Next-Generation Video Game Console.
Rumours have persisted for some time now that Microsoft is planning to leverage the Xbox gaming brand in the handheld sector - designing a product that combines video games, music and video in one handheld device – the so-called ‘iPod-killer’.
It seems that Microsoft apparently has some of its top gaming brass working on the project, with the ever-popular J Allard leading the project, Greg Gibson (system director on Xbox 360) in as project director, and Bryan Lee looking after the financial side of the business.
Greg Gibson is a 35-year-old electrical engineer who joined Microsoft in 1997 and in 2002 became the system designer in charge of the overall design of the Xbox 360.
Allard needs little introduction to regular SPOnG readers; a 36-year-old progammer who has commanded much of the hardware and software teams who put together the Xbox 360. Lee joined Microsoft as finance chief for the Xbox a few years ago.
Details on the project are still pretty thin on the ground, but the fact that Microsoft has assembled this dream team to head up the project clearly tells SPOnG that this is a key aspect of their strategy for the future of the Xbox brand.
Microsoft considered making an 'Xboy' game player a few years ago but shelved the idea. The Redmond-based behemoth also considered making a handheld videogame console at the same time it devised plans for the Xbox 360 in 2002 and 2003, but again decided to delay its entry into the handheld gaming market.
As SPOnG reported back in January, Peter Moore had said in a Business Week interview that the device, "...can't just be our version of the iPod'' and that the Xbox brand "...is an opportunity'' if and when Microsoft decides to enter the handheld market.
Microsoft unveiled the handheld Windows computer Project Origami last week, but that device is not being positioned as a portable entertainment centre.
According to Takahashi, Microsoft is still figuring out which strategy to pursue in music technology. 'Alexandria' is currently the code name for its music service, currently being mooted as the equivalent of Apple's world-ruling iTunes software.
Takahashi also states that: “One benefit of waiting longer is that the handheld will likely have sufficient technology in it to run a lot of original Xbox games from a few years ago. Hence, it wouldn't be hard to create a new library of games for the handheld.”
What with the recent announcements of PS1 games being made available for users to download onto their PSP, it’s not really hard to imagine a handheld running Xbox games being a technical and commercial reality in a relatively short space of time.
Takahashi also notes that Transmeta, a maker of low-power chip technology used in handheld devices with long battery lives had assigned 30 engineers late last year to work with Microsoft on a secret project.
All that remains to be seen, according to Takahashi, is when Microsoft will launch the device: “It could be 2007 before the device hits store shelves. That gives rivals such as Sony, Nintendo and Apple considerable time to consolidate their position and come up with their own new gadgets in the meantime.”
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