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Microsoft’s new Xbox controller borrows great ideas from Stadia, Steam, and Sony

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Microsoft’s new Xbox controller borrows great ideas from Stadia, Steam, and Sony

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New Xbox for 2024! New hybrid Xbox for 2028! But can we just appreciate Microsoft’s leaked Sebile controller for a sec?

The $70 pad could arrive in 2024 chock-full of the best parts of Sony’s DualSense, Valve’s Steam Controller, Google Stadia, and — here’s hoping — 8BitDo.

“Sebile — The New Xbox Controller.”
Image: FTC v. Microsoft

Obviously, it’s taking the Sony DualSense’s “precision haptic feedback.”

Right, here’s hoping! It’s the thing I’m most excited about because it seriously does add a new dimension to some of Sony’s games, which just aren’t the same when you take it away.

Check out our DualSense X-ray below, versus this one of an Xbox pad, to see the difference in their haptic motors:

Note that some controllers have shipped with “precision” or “HD haptics” that didn’t have the impact, even if they technically featured linear actuators instead of old-school eccentric spinning weights like Xbox gamepads still do today. The Steam Controller had pretty iffy haptics, and the Nintendo Switch haptics aren’t DualSense-level…

What’s the good Steam Controller feature, then?

Would you believe Microsoft’s “haptics double as speakers” has already been done? This always makes me LOL:

The Steam Controller could genuinely do that. Heck, the Taptic Engine in your iPhone can technically do it, too.

But I’m also really hoping Microsoft puts a gyroscope in this thing, not just an accelerometer, so we can have the same gyro aiming revolution I’m experiencing on my Steam Deck and with Zelda on Switch. It’s so good for aiming bows.

What good could possibly have come from Google’s Stadia controller?

It’s the reason Sebile is such a big deal. Microsoft was internally positioning it as its first “Universal Wireless Controller,” theoretically capable of controlling Xbox across console, mobile, PC, and cloud.

The controller can do that because it connects directly to the cloud, documents show, in addition to Bluetooth and Xbox Wireless. Google Stadia pioneered direct-to-cloud by connecting the controller directly to your home Wi-Fi, and it let me seamlessly move between playing a game on my PC, TV, and phone. Here’s something I wrote in 2019 about Stadia and Destiny 2:

I fired up a session on the TV with the Stadia Controller while we were just blasting tiny minions, swapped to a desktop with a mouse and keyboard when I needed better aim for a boss fight, and seamlessly resumed the game on a smartphone before walking down the hall to grab a snack — all while playing with a colleague 5,000-plus miles away in London — without any major hitches. 

Amazon’s Luna controller also had a direct-to-cloud connection, but… nobody really talks about Luna anymore.

Okay, I’m reading between the lines here way too much and am ready to be underwhelmed, but Sebile has three delightful ideas that catch my eye:

  • A “rechargeable & swappable battery”
  • “New modular thumbsticks” with “improved longevity”
  • “Seamless Pair & Switch” across multiple paired devices

First, Sony fans and Xbox fans have long argued over the merits of Sony’s short-lived but rechargeable internal lithium-ion pack versus Microsoft’s slot for standard AA batteries… but controller specialist 8BitDo delightfully said “Why not both?”

Yes, you’re looking at a 2x AA-sized rechargeable battery pack that can stay inside your 8BitDo controller, charging over its USB-C port — and if it ever runs out mid-session, AA batteries work fine, too.

Second, many of 8BitDo’s controllers have a neat sliding switch on the back that lets you swap between four paired devices over Bluetooth — one click to go from Nintendo Switch to iPhone or PC. Sounds like Microsoft might do that with an app, though.

Third, while 8BitDo’s Ultimate Bluetooth Controller sadly doesn’t come with that style of battery or that four-position, it does come with Gulikit Hall effect sensor joysticks that should hopefully eliminate stick drift — at a time when both Sony and Microsoft are using the same exact drift-prone joysticks.

Lift-to-wake presence detection could be a big deal for battery life! Former Polygon editor-in-chief (and current publisher) Chris Grant tells me Xbox One controllers seemed to last forever if you had a Microsoft Kinect set up — since the camera handled that presence detection role.

How likely is any of this?

Microsoft’s leaked documents show Sebile isn’t some pie-in-the-sky project — it was already funded as of May 2022. The leaked slide deck suggests this is the new Xbox controller, set to arrive May 2024 for $70 and bundled with every new Xbox sold starting next fall.

It’s not the only new controller that was in discussions, with another version codenamed “Igraine,” a new Elite controller dubbed “Actium,” and a new luxury controller dubbed “Zarasai.”

It’s interesting to see what Xbox thought it could and could not afford.
Image: Court documents

But the last two had yet to achieve internal funding, and Microsoft’s internal documents also cautioned that the “Sebile full product vision” was “not currently approved,” laying out scenarios where a pared-down controller would ship instead.

Will Microsoft deliver its full 2030 vision?
Image: Court documents

By the way, Sebile and Igraine would supposedly ship with a pack-in accessory of some sort called “Bonnie” or “Bonnie Pro.” Is that the name of the rechargeable battery? A carrying case? An interchangeable stick or stick topper? Your guess is as good as ours.

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