Valve are reportedly making a portable and dockable Nintendo Switch-like gaming PC “SteamPal;” and that it may launch by the end of this year.
Ars Technica reports that “multiple sources familiar with the matter” have divulged that the device has been in development for some time. They also note how Steam DB owner Pavel Djundik (a website dedicated to monitoring changes in Steam’s database), found changes in a recent Steam client beta update that may indicate the claims are true,
“Valve’s ‘Neptune’ controller shows up in latest Steam client beta again,” Djundik tweeted. “It’s named ‘SteamPal’ (NeptuneName) and it has a ‘SteamPal Games’ (GameList_View_NeptuneGames). This update also added a ‘quick access menu’ and a ‘power menu’.”
As Djundik felt those strings were related to the Neptune controller, he also speculated if Valve were making a handheld Steam console. He also noted there was reference to “Callisto Developer Program,” and that “neptuneGamesCollection” first appeared in September 2020 update alongside a “Device Optimized Games” string.
In a now deleted video of Newell speaking at New Zealand’s Sancta Maria College, he was reportedly asked by a student about Valve’s plans for console video games. “You will get a better idea of that by the end of this year,” Newell teased, “and it won’t be the answer you expect. You’ll say, ‘Ah-ha! Now I get what he was talking about.'”
Ars Technica proposes that SteamPal may be the portable gaming PC, though not confirmed to be the final name. They also claim the device will have “gamepad controls and a touchscreen;” bringing comparisons to the Nintendo Switch barring the removable Joy-Cons.
Dell and Alienware also produced a portable PC gaming device concept with a Switch-like design; while Chinese OEMs GPD, One-Netbook, and Aya have (in Ars Technica’s words) “slapped ultramobile PC processors and parts into a Switch-like chassis.”
Ars Technica reported the SteamPal will go down a similar route- seemingly their own theory as oppose to claims from their sources. They propose it will use a chip from Intel or AMD as prior “Switch-likes” have. At least one SteamPal prototype was “quite wide compared to the Nintendo Switch.”
This extra width was to allow for new control options; including buttons, triggers, a joysticks and at least one thumb-sized touch pad (akin to the Steam Controller). Ars Technica note the SteamPal is in the early prototype stage, and therefore subject to changes.
The comparisons to the Nintendo Switch do not end at its shape and touch options. The device will also reportedly be able to “dock” into larger monitors via a USB Type-C port. Ars Technica admit they have no idea how the connection will work, or if there will be a hardware dock to accompany it.
Finally, Ars Technica propose SteamPal is being built with Linux in mind; as Valve have continued to make their entire catalog compatible with the open-source OS.
The story may sound familiar to those who remember the ill-fate Steam Machine; Valve’s pre-built gaming PC with console-features; and promoting the open-source Linux OS while Apple and Microsoft discussed restricting what programs could be installed on their operating systems (especially Windows 8). It operates on Valve’s Linux-based SteamOS via the Steam client.
After its 2015 launch however, the system was effectively dead on arrival. As of June 2016, the console sold less than 500,000 units, with official figures to date to be yet confirmed. As proposed by PC Gamer in their autopsy, the reasons for the failure included the Steam OS not being fit for every day and gaming use, slow and little signs of updates, Microsoft launching their free Windows 10 OS, and delays.
Steam Link, a device to stream PC games to larger monitors, were also seen as a cheaper alternative to those who would have only wanted a Steam Machine for a larger monitor and “couch gaming.” Those selling Steam Machines reportedly found consumers wanted a console or a PC, rather than the Steam Machines attempt to be both.
The Steam Machine section of the Steam store was quietly hidden in 2018. In an interview with Edge magazine in 2019, Valve’s CEO Gabe Newell stated “The hardware we were pushing for was super-incomplete at the time. I thought, ‘This is clearly where we all want to end up, and this is a point along the pathway to getting us there’.”
“And people were like, ‘Yes, but you’re asking me to pay you money for the privilege of being on your roadmap, and I’m not really sure what I’m getting out of this at this time’,” Newell admitted. “We needed to be a lot further along in terms of delivering polished consumer experiences before we were trying to get people to actually pay money for those things.”
Is this rumored hand-held device the next step along the pathway? Is now a wise time to launch such a device while the big three and others struggle to find graphics cards? We will keep you informed as we learn more.