This Surface Neo patent shows the potential xCloud has on Windows as well as mobile

Duo (Image credit: Microsoft)

Surface Neo

Source: Microsoft (Image credit: Source: Microsoft)

A recent patent filing (via PatentScope) has offered us a more detailed look at some of the Surface Neo's technical capabilities, alongside some tantalizing possibilities for future user scenarios.

Microsoft's Project xCloud is a massive undertaking in the gaming division, as the teams ramp up to deliver console-quality game streaming content to any device. The service is now in-testing on Android and iOS, with a Windows version soon to follow. Thus far, the service has an avalanche of high-quality content, easily beating out rivals like Google's Stadia. Although we still don't know what the monetization model looks like, the promise and potential is clearly there.

So far, we generally think about Project xCloud as being a "mobile" affair, bringing Xbox games to handsets. I've found in my own testing that larger tablets provide a far more preferable experience, owing to UI scaling issues. Some games are simply too damn hard to see, even on a large phone like my Galaxy Note 9. It is then, encouraging, that Microsoft seems to be exploring ways to bring xCloud to tablets more ergonomically.

Surface Neo gamepad attachment?

Source: Microsoft / PatentScope (Image credit: Source: Microsoft / PatentScope)

The Surface Neo wowed us when Microsoft showed it off last year. A dual-screen folding tablet, complete with a new OS dubbed Windows 10X, that revolves around the touch-first form factor.

Naturally, Windows 10X comes with some drawbacks. As a stripped-down version of Windows, it will most likely lack many of the APIs necessary to run full Win32 games from Steam or the new Xbox Store on PC, for example. This is one area where Project xCloud could really help devices like Neo to shine.

The patent in question details many of the features Microsoft showed off in the original Surface Neo trailer, but tantalizingly also references the fact the magnetic keyboard portion could be used as a "game controller."

In this example, the input device 102 is manifest as a keyboard device. In other implementations, the input device can be manifest as a trackpad or game controller, among others.

The patent-ese lingo is vague enough to avoid any hard specifics on what a "game controller" input device might look like. In the Surface Duo trailer, for example, we see the "input device" manifest as a touch-based virtual gamepad on the second display. I'd argue that no Xbox gamer on earth would prefer to play this way, given the choice. The lack of tactile controls is simply not what Xbox games are designed for, generally.

Given that the patent diagrams refer directly to the physical keyboard as the "input device," the patent could be referring to a magnetic physical gamepad, similar in function to the physical keyboard shown off in the Neo trailer. It's a bit of a stretch to assume that it is in active development, given that the only example we have is a single line of reference in a patent, but it would more than make sense.

xCloud opportunity for low-power Windows devices


Source: GPD The GPD Win is a tiny PC that comes baked with an Xbox controller. (Image credit: Source: GPD)

xCloud is going to hit scale on Android and iOS, but there are also millions of low-power PCs out there that can't run contemporary games even on their lowest graphics settings. xCloud also liberates Windows from decades of legacy APIs, allowing a streamlined OS like Windows 10X to gain some gaming chops of its own, via streaming.

The obvious question boils down to ergonomics. Playing xCloud titles on a squished screen isn't a pleasant experience and the phone clips on offer feel like a bandaid solution to a bigger problem. Even if the "game controller" references in the Surface Neo patent turn out to be nothing, it is encouraging that Microsoft is at least thinking about ways to bring more tactile controls to XCloud on its future devices — without having us carrying controllers and clips around.

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Jez Corden
Managing Editor

Jez Corden is the Managing Editor for Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by caffeine. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his Xbox Two podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!

  • Using the Galaxy Note 9 use samsung dex to plug in to your tv. XCloud works like a charm for this setup
  • Didn't even think of that. Future is awesome, lol
  • Makes me want to cry to think that this could have been Continuum on WP.
  • Yes, it's amazing, turns your phone into a portable console. I have two Microsoft Display Docks and one of the original vertical standing Samsung Dex docks with the built in fan with Ethernet. Plug the phone in, game on the TV. I hope Microsoft and Samsung seize the opportunity with Dex + Xbox as it is a huge opportunity. Also, wired controllers work through Dex and xCloud, even old Xbox 360 wired controllers.
  • This is exactly what I've been doing on my S10/N10 from the beginning. It works so well that I forget I'm not playing a console. I have a little foldable bluetooth keyboard/mouse combo to control via DeX. This is nearly the dream setup IMHO.
  • We're all watching our TV and movies on our phones, we can totally play games...
  • We can but some games are not amazing on phone screens thays the stumble block tables would be better for games than phones.
  • Well we already do, just not that console games on our smartphones. Though I reckon that some mobile games are pretty much like what you see from traditional console if you really look past the typical mobile games, especially when looking at some JRPG games and even MOBA on Android. The issue is that the lack of tactile input when playing them on touchscreen, which makes some gaming experience not as nice as when having a physical controller. Thus game controllers for smartphones is growing in popularity lately, while you can simply buy a clip if you wish to simply use the existing controller from a gaming console. A switch-like controllers already exist, just not exactly like Joycons. I think Surface Duo can benefit to have a Joycon like accessory for it that you can attach on the side instead on-top of the touchscreen. This way, you can really have a proper controller with actual mechanical joysticks since you have much room for dedicated controller. Also the added thickness and curvature is more ergonomic than slim flat surface.
  • For XPA and xCloud!