What an Xbox Surface tablet would mean for gamers

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Microsoft is developing a Xbox Surface tablet—at least according to reports circulating on the Internet Tuesday. But it’s unclear if the gaming community would embrace a 7-inch gaming tablet, even if it did have the Xbox brand attached to it.

If Microsoft produces the rumored Xbox Surface tablet, as The Verge reported Tuesday, it will likely do little to revolutionize gaming, at least in the short-term. But it would be an important step forward for Microsoft, a juggernaut that has made its fortune dominating traditional entertainment formats.

Microsoft now dominates the gaming console market with its popular Xbox 360, which has led current-generation console sales for nearly two years, according to research firm NPD Group.

Mobile gaming popularity

Mobile devices do serve up inexpensive titles wherever you can find a wireless or cellular connection, and consumers have voted with their wallets: Consider Nintendo’s $500 million annual net loss in the wake of slowing Nintendo 3DS sales.

Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter, who covers the video-gaming industry, says “it does sound likely” that Microsoft would develop an Xbox tablet due to the strength of the Xbox brand and the fact that 75 percent of the games in the Xbox Live Arcade would translate well to tablets. However, Pachter adds, it’s impossible to tell how such a product would catch on with consumers because it remains unclear how popular the Surface is.

Xbox tablet talk

Microsoft declined to comment on the rumors, but The Verge reported that multiple unnamed sources have confirmed the company’s plans to develop a gaming tablet.

“We don’t comment on rumors or speculation,” a Microsoft spokesperson said Tuesday.

The Verge first speculated about a 7-inch Xbox tablet in June, prior to Microsoft’s unveiling of the 10-inch Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets.

The site’s sources say the Xbox tablet will have a high-powered custom ARM processor and more RAM to support games. Microsoft is reportedly in the early stages of development on the project at its Silicon Valley offices. The company has also boosted security at its Xbox base in Redmond, Geekwire reported in September.

Where an Xbox tablet might fit in

Xbox 360

An Xbox-branded 7-inch tablet wouldn’t replace Microsoft’s Xbox 360 console. An Xbox tablet probably would work best as a second screen aimed at complementing the living room experience, serving up new ways to interact with Microsoft’s immensely popular console while integrating neatly with the tablet and smartphone ecosystem we’ve all grown accustomed to.

But Microsoft still needs to give people a reason to buy a whole new tablet to play what are essentially dressed-up smartphone games. Here’s where the Xbox branding helps: it’s valuable, and has attracted legions of consumers over the years. A device that marries the Xbox’s pedigree (and fan base) with the momentum of tablet ecosystems could serve to lure developers, convincing them to build games for a potentially massive built-in audience, and fill an app store that’s currently devoid of any hit titles.

For the right price, an Xbox Surface could prove successful. The tablet isn’t just going against the likes of the Sony PlayStation Vita and Nintendo 3DS, but also the Google Nexus 7 and Apple iPad mini.

If Microsoft is developing an Xbox tablet, it’s unlikely we’ll see it anytime this year. The company is pushing the Surface RT and upcoming Surface Pro this holiday season.

TechHive's Armando Rodriguez and Nate Ralph contributed to this article.

This story, "What an Xbox Surface tablet would mean for gamers" was originally published by TechHive.

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