Valve’s next hardware adventure could be a portable PC dubbed the “SteamPal”. A recent update to the Steam Client beta, including mentions of "SteamPal Games", a "quick access menu" and a "power menu", was spotted by SteamDB creator Pavel Djundik. There's a lot more speculation, but the rumours have been rumbling away for a while now.
Ars Technica claims “multiple sources” have confirmed that SteamPal will be a “Switch-like portable PC designed to run a large number of games on the Steam PC platform via Linux”. Ars says one prototype is “quite wide compared to the Nintendo Switch. This extra width accommodates a slew of control options.” None of those options are keyboards, though. The prototype reportedly has a mixture of thumbsticks, buttons, and touchpads surrounding a touchscreen.
The device will be a single unit, likely building on all the various hardware platforms that Valve has dabbled with in the past. We’ve had Steam Machines and SteamOS that used pre-built PCs and ran on Linux. The Steam Link was a small box that streamed games from your gaming PC to a TV. The Steam Controller added swipey touchpads to traditional gamepads. Their VR headset, the Valve Index, really benefitted from everything that came before it, with Valve creating a premium product that sat apart from the rest of their hardware. I could see a portable gamepad emerging from all those elements.
Valve have long been on a mission to make Steam available outside of the typical PC gaming setup. Steam Machines, Steam Link, and the Steam Controller were all attempts at letting you bring your Steam library into the living room. None of them really set the world on fire, and have all been dropped by Valve since they first came into being. But they did keep working on Linux, building Proton, a tool that integrates with Steam to make Windows games run on a Linux OS. It's been a vast improvement for people who want to play games without much fuss on something like Ubuntu.
A few weeks ago, Gabe Newell was interviewed on stage at Sancta Maria College in Auckland, where he was asked by one student: "Will Steam be putting any games on console, or will it just stay on PC?"
"You will get a better idea of that by the end of this year, and it won’t be the answer you expect," Newell replied.
He's right. I definitely didn't expect to be playing Dota 2 on the toilet by the end of the year.