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Xbox Surface: Is Microsoft really going to produce a 7in gaming slate?

Inside sources at Microsoft have confirmed that the company is building an Xbox Surface – a 7in gaming tablet that will go head-to-head with other dedicated gaming consoles, such as the PlayStation Vita, and the Wii U tablet controller.

As we reported earlier on, according to The Verge, the Xbox Surface tablet is still in the “initial hardware planning” stages, and it will probably include a “custom ARM processor” and “high-bandwidth RAM.”

Furthermore, the insider sources say that documents detailing the Xbox Surface which were leaked in June are accurate. From these documents, we know that the Xbox Surface has a 1280 x 720 display, an SD card slot, and the usual Wi-Fi/Bluetooth connectivity.

On the software side of things, the 7in Xbox Surface will run a “custom Windows kernel,” almost certainly based on Windows 8 – much in the same way that Windows Phone 8 shares the same core features as Windows 8, but isn’t Windows 8. You’ll be able to do tablety-type stuff on the Xbox Surface, such as messaging and browsing, but it will not feature a full, extensible operating system (such as iOS, Android, or Windows 8).

Here’s where things start to get messy, though. The sources say that the ARM SoC could also be swapped out for an as-yet-unannounced Intel SoC (probably the upcoming 22nm Bay Trail, successor to Clover Trail) – and as such, the Xbox Surface is being designed with platform agnosticism in mind.

Generally, choosing a hardware platform is one of the first things that you would do, because it dictates the feature set of the device. How can Microsoft get game developers on board, if they don’t know what hardware to target?

The other big question, which The Verge doesn’t tackle, is that the original leak (pictured above) also details a “stationary computing device.” We believe that this device is the successor to the Xbox 360 – but there, at the top of the page, is “Xbox Surface.” Will the entire console be called the Xbox Surface, with tablets becoming the new controllers, just like Nintendo’s Wii U? The leaked spec also says that the tablet will have a “custom IBM engine” – which means PowerPC, not x86 or ARM. Will the Xbox Surface tablet be a dedicated gaming device, or just a controller?

With Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, and the upcoming Xbox 720 (or whatever it’s called), there’s a real possibility for Microsoft to deliver the most compelling, integrated experience on the market – but for that to work, Microsoft’s vision must be crystal clear. Personally, I think that having Windows 8/RT Surface tablets, Windows-ish Xbox Surface tablets, and the Xbox 720 console is too messy and convoluted.

In all likelihood, I think the Xbox Surface will probably just be a cheaper, 7in version of the Surface – a £100 or so tablet that runs some flavour of Windows, and acts as a second display for your Xbox 720 console, just like the Wii U. I would be surprised if the Xbox Surface is a standalone gaming tablet that can be bought and used outside of the Windows 8 or Xbox ecosystems.