April 19, 2007, Microsoft filed a new patent application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a “Multi-Component Gaming System.” Here’s the pertinent language from the summary paragraph:
Gaming components can be combined wirelessly, by wired connections (e.g., via a docking station), or a combination thereof. The processing capabilities and functionality of each gaming component in the combination is augmented by the processing capabilities and functionality of other gaming components in the combination. In an exemplary embodiment, a console gaming device is coupled to several handheld gaming devices. Each handheld gaming device is capable of utilizing the console gaming device to process gaming applications, thus taking advantage of the console gaming device’s greater processing speed. Further, each handheld gaming device is capable of rendering audio and/or video information provided by the console that is beyond the capability of the handheld gaming device operating as a stand alone component. Also, a gaming component is capable of utilizing another gaming component as an adjunct processor.
Of course it’s possible this application will go nowhere or at least not into consumer hands. But I think it will. Given the Zune’s built-in wireless WiFi capabilities along with Microsoft’s keen interest to leverage all of its own strengths (gaming, PC computing) to grab a larger share of the otherwise iPod-dominated market, it would make good sense for the Zune, or a future 360 handheld, to link-up with the 360 and use the 360’s vast number-crunching power to allow the user to, say, play Halo 3 or Gears of War on the handheld. The application clearly states the intention to allow the wireless to harness the console’s computing power to assist with handheld applications.
I suggest the Zune, or a future version of the Zune, to be the natural choice. Clearly MS wants to make this a broad-based enterprise, allowing PDAs, cell phones, and other handheld devices to be able to contribute computing power to the “multi-component” system. But MS might well want to build-up its home brands. Microsoft has repeatedly expressed an intention to make the 360 into the home “entertainment hub.” MS has devoted vast recources to developing the Zune. Given MS’ Apple-like drive to create brands similar to the Mac, already seeing clear success in the Xbox label, sticking with the Zune or Zune label would be singing the same successful song that the Xbox/Xbox 360 has sung thus far over the past 6 years.