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What would have happened if Microsoft jumped into the portable gaming space? What would their handheld have been like? Well, we'll never find out because Microsoft didn't jump into that arena but they could have...according to one former Xbox executive.
IGN managed to talk with former Xbox executive Robbie Bach, who stopped by to offer some comments during their IGN Unfiltered podcast. The article has a scattering of quotes from Bach, who mentioned that they never reached the prototype stage for what was being dubbed as the "Xboy" but "there were definitely drawings."
The article doesn't clarify if Bach meant that there were mock-ups with concept art or if it had moved into a more serious phase where the drawings were prepping for an actual prototype design. It's mentioned that the handheld device came up multiple times in meetings but never came to fruition because they just didn't have the "bandwidth", likely referring to the market know-how and software line-up to make the whole thing work cohesively with their home console unit.
At the time Bach and the group were working on the Xbox 360, and they wanted to focus more heartily on that task at hand. They were gunning to get the system out by the holiday season of 2005, a year ahead of Nintendo and Sony who would be launching the PS3 and the Wii a year later during the fall of 2006.
The Xbox 360 managed to take first place for the longest throughout the seventh generation of gaming, just before Nintendo stepped it up and managed to become the global leader with the Wii and its motion-controlled peripherals.
According to Bach, he reflects that it was probably best they didn't get into the portable game because in hindsight they were "lucky" to avoid the market due to the upsurge in mobile gaming. It's a bit disingenuous to relate mobile gaming with portable gaming and insinuate that the latter doesn't have much of a place at the table due to the former.
Even IGN reported back in June that the Nintendo 3DS had managed to move 60 million units worldwide. That's a significant number since its debut back in 2011. That's also not including the sales of the DS and 2DS.
While many companies look at the prospect of a billion mobile phone users, not every app released for mobile phones will be a Pokemon Go. Dedicated handhelds offer the opportunity for dedicated gaming experiences, and it also dwindles down on the issue of oversaturation, which is a problem that a lot of developers face when attempting to compete in the crowded mobile space.
A dedicated Xbox portable system could have worked depending on how Microsoft marketed it and what its features were (and assuming that it had exclusives you couldn't get or play on any other device).
Funnily enough, companies like Tflash made their own portable Android devices with a controller attached that mimic the look and design of an Xbox controller, as pictured in the main image above. It's funny because Microsoft could have used a similar design and branded their own Android device with an Xbox controller and a few exclusives, including Halo and Gears of War. It's still not impossible for Microsoft to pursue the mobile/portable route, but as Bach pointed out, they already feel as if smartphones dominate that market.