The portable gaming market is growing, with products ranging from the Steam Deck to the Analogue Pocket offering multiple ways to play on the go. Many of the biggest names in the gaming industry have released a gaming laptop, including Valve, Asus, Lenovo, and MSI. For now, Microsoft is on the outside looking in, but it may not be that way for long. In a recent interview with Polygon at this year's Game Developers Conference, Xbox boss Phil Spencer outlined how the company can improve its current PC gaming offerings. While nothing is confirmed yet, Spencer's comments reveal that Xbox leadership is seriously exploring the portable format.

I'm already looking forward to the release of an Xbox gaming laptop, because this hypothetical product would massively shake up the gaming laptop market. Microsoft seems especially poised to succeed in the portable format in areas where others have failed, in part due to its Xbox and Windows software. By leveraging the Xbox ecosystem, it's possible for Microsoft to offer the strongest compatibility and gaming support of any handheld. Most importantly, all of these software improvements will have a chance to make their way to other PC gaming handhelds. Whether you're an Xbox fan, a PC gamer, or a Steam Deck enthusiast, there's a reason to wait for Microsoft to enter the handheld market.

3 Great hardware and software integration

Microsoft knows what's wrong with PC gaming handhelds and can fix it

Xbox consoles today run excellent software and have excellent optimization because Microsoft has control over the devices' hardware and software. Microsoft designs the hardware for consoles, choosing which components to place inside them. Most importantly, it exerts control over the Xbox software, since it's just a highly customized version of Windows 10. If you took the Xbox software and threw it on a random gaming PC, it probably wouldn't run as well. This is because Microsoft develops the Xbox software in a way that makes the most of the console's hardware. There isn't a company that has an equal level of control over a PC gaming laptop today. The closest is Valve, which develops SteamOS for the Steam Deck, but SteamOS is a Linux distribution rather than a fully custom operating system.

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Handheld gaming devices are worse off due to poor Windows performance on small touchscreen devices, and this is something Spencer acknowledges in the Polygon interview:

I like the fact that Valve, Lenovo and Asus have emerged and innovated a new format. And I will say that when I play on these devices, it almost feels more like a console than a PC – nine times out of ten. The things that generally frustrate me are more Windows-based than device-based. Which is an area in which I feel some ownership. Like, I want to be able to log in with a controller. I have my list of things we should do.

Microsoft it could Create a handheld with great hardware and great software using your Xbox and Windows experience. However, it's another thing for the company to actually go out and do it. Spencer's clear recognition of the problems plaguing current PC gaming handhelds – and understanding that Microsoft is the company in a position to solve them – is reason to be hopeful for an Xbox gaming handheld.

two Better game compatibility

Leverage the Xbox ecosystem for game compatibility and syncing

Right now, one of the biggest unknowns about an Xbox handheld is whether it would be built on a closed or open platform. While there are some exceptions, the Xbox ecosystem is generally a closed platform. You buy and download Microsoft games through a disc, individual download, or subscription like Xbox Game Pass. PC gaming laptops today are basically full-fledged gaming laptops in a different form factor, meaning they can run games purchased from a variety of sources. Microsoft could consider a rumored Xbox handheld an extension of the Xbox ecosystem. Or it could make it more open, like Windows and other PC gaming handhelds.

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Either way, game compatibility would be better than existing options. All of the portable PC gaming devices available today are in some way limited in what games they can run and how well they can run them. For example, as a Linux-based system, the Steam Deck is incompatible with anti-cheat software needed to run high-profile games like Fortnite. Windows-based gaming handheld devices do not have this problem, but they still use physical controllers to run games that may not have been optimized for controller input. Microsoft, using the Xbox ecosystem, could improve on both fronts. The Xbox platform has excellent support for a wide variety of game titles, and they are all designed for controller input.

For those hoping that an Xbox gaming handheld will feature a more open platform, there's still reason to hope for one. Microsoft has been making consistent moves to expand its reach in the gaming market beyond Xbox console owners. Games are abandoning their exclusivity in favor of cross-platform support, and services like Xbox Game Pass and Xbox Cloud Gaming are available almost everywhere. Additionally, Spencer's public comments indicate that Microsoft may be exploring an open concept Xbox gaming handheld:

From a game creator's perspective, I can then build a unique version of my game that covers more hardware and reaches more customers. And I would say that for players it reduces friction. Like, if I want to play my console games anywhere with a handheld, I don't want to be able to just buy one brand of handheld. Right? […] I want everything we're doing in the hardware space to be great. But if someone decides to go play today [somewhere else]I don't want them to feel like an inferior Xbox [player].

Again, it's worth remembering that Microsoft is clearly exploring a variety of different options. However, the idea Spencer describes in his most recent interview seems to reference a more open concept rather than a closed ecosystem.

1 If Xbox makes a handheld, the entire market will win

Software improvements and features could come to other PC gaming handhelds

The biggest reason to wait for an Xbox gaming handheld is that the entire market could benefit from Microsoft's entry. The company's development of software designed and optimized for handheld gaming devices can extend to all Windows-based PC handheld gaming devices. For example, in October 2024, Microsoft released an update to the Xbox for Windows app that improved the performance of the Xbox Game Bar on portable devices. With bigger stakes in gaming — like an Xbox gaming handheld of its own — Microsoft would have more incentive to make the Windows and Xbox experience better on all handhelds. In fact, Spencer describes how he wishes his Lenovo Legion Go was more like an Xbox in the Polygon interview:

I want my Lenovo Legion Go to look like an Xbox. I brought [the Legion Go] with me for GDC. I'm on the plane and I have this list of everything that makes it not look like an Xbox. Forget the brand. More like: Are all my games there? All my games appear with save [files] that I want? I'll tell you one [game] It doesn't happen now – it's driving me crazy – yeah
Fallout 76
. It does not have cross-save. […] I want to be able to launch the Xbox app in full screen, but in compact mode. And all my social networks [experience] exist. Like I want it to look like the dashboard on my Xbox when I turn on the television. [Except I want it] on these devices.

I have an Asus ROG Ally and I'm a big fan of the hardware. It's software that could be improved, as the ROG Ally runs Windows 11. Microsoft shipping an Xbox handheld could make the experience of using a device like the Legion Go or ROG Ally better, and gamers wouldn't have to buy a new device . Time and time again, reviewers and gamers have cited Windows as the reason PC gaming laptops aren't perfect. Microsoft is the company in a unique position to fix this, and I think that starts with an Xbox gaming handheld.

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What would an Xbox gaming laptop look like?

Looking at Spencer's thoughts on gaming handhelds, there's no clear explanation of how the Xbox will fit in. However, it's evident that the Xbox boss is aware of the ways in which Microsoft could improve gaming handhelds, both with hardware and software. I'm still skeptical that Xbox will enter a new hardware category at a time when it is definitively losing the console wars to Sony and Nintendo. The good thing is that Microsoft doesn't need to create a new piece of hardware to make its presence felt in the portable market. Improving software for Xbox and Windows, working with PC gaming laptop OEMs, and optimizing the experience could still make the idea of ​​an “Xbox gaming laptop” a reality.

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