Andy Kleinman, CEO and co-founder of the mysterious startup Wonder, says the gaming industry is finally ready for a truly hybrid hardware – and he's not talking about the Nintendo Switch. In The Verge 's office in San Francisco late last month, he pulls out what looks like a standard Android smartphone from a mesh black case. It's smooth, angular and has a huge screen.
As good as it looks, it's still a prototype designed by notable Silicon Valley industrial designer Yves Behar. I hope it will be the centerpiece of an entertainment ecosystem for gamers and gadget heads who are fans of cutting-edge technologies. Unlike a standard Android phone, this device has its own software layer called WonderOS, which allows the company to overclock the graphics processor like a PC gaming rig and transfer the device to a TV when docking. similar to a switch.
"Everyone has exactly the same product," says Kleinman, whose experience in the games industry comes from a studio in Zygna and a Disney-acquired studio, about the oversaturated mobile market. "They're positioning it the same way, by following the masses ̵
The final product, which Kleinman says will come out next year, is a hardware package and a subscription service provided by Wonder users a smartphone offers. Dock, controller and access to a number of software services. The dock allows the device to play games on the big screen with the controller, while the controller itself has a physical slot into which the phone can plug like a screen attachment. The software services are said to provide access to original games from existing game publishers, licensed and mobile-optimized third-party titles, streaming game and media options, and other entertainment hub-like features. There is no word yet about the prices or even the specifications of the phone itself. Wonder does not announce any official partnership news yet. The product does not have an official name yet.
The device may not be designed and branded by Wonder, Kleinman says. "We talk to companies that create high-end flagship software, much like Roku," he says. "It's more like an operating system, so we can not say that this is possible with a smartphone, there are still ways we can make other devices Wonderable, and there are certain thresholds you need." Regardless, Kleinman wants the device to be an all-rounder Android device that can perform tasks as diverse as a phone call to stream a PC game over Steam, possibly through the Steam Link platform from Valve.
Wonder is not the only company that makes a leap into a gaming centric mobile device. Nvidia has tried something similar with the original 2013 Shield. It was a standard game controller with a flip-up screen and integrated Tegra processor. It also ran on Android, but the lack of solid software and anemic third-party support left the shield scaring until Nvidia used the product name to launch a set-top box that performed almost the same functions without portability. Recently, devices like the Razer Phone have attempted to take the coat of the Android-based wearable gaming device, though most of it is a showcase for next-generation display technology.
In the core game market, Sony tried for years in the handheld market, first with the PSP and then with the Vita. With these devices, players can access classic console titles, play a number of original games, and connect to their more powerful PlayStation consoles for cross and remote play purposes. However, Sony found out that mobile devices are eating too much of the portable gaming market, and there was not enough demand for a handheld device that existed in the nebulous space between a smartphone and a console in which Sony's main competitor was Nintendo's more successful 3DS. Vita continues to be popular in Asia, but Sony has stated that it has no plans to continue to create original platform titles or invest in the development of a true successor. Only yesterday Kotaku reported that Sony has finished the production of physical Vita games.
Of course, the best and most successful example of the type of device Wonder is making is the Switch, which launched Nintendo in March of last year and by January 2018 had already sold more units than the Lifetime Sales The Wii U. Nintendo approach was calculated: It took all the lessons learned from its success with the 3DS and the failure of the Wii U, of course, largely with the switch to correct. The device combines the freedom of handheld gaming with the power of console gaming – all in a tablet form factor. And with Nintendo being one of the industry's oldest and most popular brands, consumers have opted for the switch to play games in famous franchises such as Zelda and Mario .
Wonder tries something different and maybe a bit more radical and inevitably more tense. Kleinman does not want a direct switch competitor, but a consumer brand that happens to have the hardware versatility of a mobile-console hybrid. And he believes that it can overcome some of the challenges that the switch faces, such as low battery power and a more restrictive game library through the integration of high-end smartphone components and the ubiquity of Android. "The switch did a really good job, starting with the idea of portability, but there are a lot of restrictions on the switch," he says. With Wonder, he adds, "think about building a portable gaming and entertainment platform that can deliver any kind of game."
Right now Wonder has a lot of work to do. There are also countless ways in which roadblocks could fail or even fail, from the lack of hardware to problems logging in game developers. At the moment, not only does the company need to revamp its prototype and place it in the hands of beta testers, but also partner with device manufacturers, game studios, and other content creators to ensure that Wonder delivers more than just Android apps and on a real one Piece of hardware and not just a prototype. Kleinman says his team has talked to Valve about Steam support and streaming games, which could provide a viable way to let the Wonder platform play more demanding PC games without the harsher hardware.
The company is also working with telecom manufacturers, although Kleinman will not say so yet to see how it can help to develop common Android brands. In addition to all this, Kleinman says his team is already talking with game developers about creating Wonder optimized versions of console and PC titles running on Android and supporting both controller and touchscreen games.
That sounds like a lot of work for a team of only 30 in Los Angeles. Although Kleinman says that Wonder now has an engineering group in Seattle, an industrial design department in San Francisco, and manufacturing partners in China courtesy of consumer electronics giant TLC, which has invested in Wonders $ 14 million Series A financing round last year ,
"What we do is not super difficult, we're not trying to create a revolutionary magic-leap-style technology that no one has ever seen," says Kleinman confidently. "We're just trying to make a great experience the way Apple does." Of course, it would not have been that difficult to build such a system, another company – like Nintendo or Sony – would have done it much sooner. But right now the tantalizing dream of a true hybrid mobile hybrid is out of reach, at least for the moment. Kleinman believes that Wonder can be the first to turn. With that, the startup could beat the biggest players in the industry into the future of gaming.