Valve Steam Deck just blew the lid wide open for the handheld gaming PC market
Ultra-mobile PCs (UMPCs) aren't a new concept. Models running Microsoft Windows have been available for well over a decade albeit with limited performance. More recently, however, some manufacturers have been dabbling on UMPCs targeted at gamers now that the latest ULV 11th gen Intel and Zen 2 or Zen 3 AMD CPUs have been optimized for lower resolution 720p gaming. Early examples include the GPD Win Max running on Intel Ice Lake, the GPD Win 3 running on the Tiger Lake Core i5-1135G7 or i7-1165G7 with Iris Xe graphics, or the AYA NEO running on a Ryzen 5 4500U.
The problem with these early gaming UMPCs was that they came from lesser-known manufacturers with limited resources. Thus, marketing was limited and prices were relatively high. The GPD Win 3, for example, would cost over $800 USD at launch to be nearly the same price as a full-fledged Intel Ultrabook. Many of these models would consequently appeal only to gaming enthusiasts even though the core concept of a handheld gaming PC can have mass market appeal.
Valve's announcement and upcoming launch of the Steam Deck may be the fire that the unripe handheld gaming PC market needs because the company has the massive economies of scale necessary to reach lower price points more quickly than smaller manufacturers. Gabe Newell made it clear that the $399 USD starting price for the Steam Deck was a key bullet point to hit during the development of the system which just so happens to make it the most affordable handheld gaming PC in the current market by far. If the Steam Deck misses the mark on one or two areas at launch, its shortcomings likely won't matter much in the long run simply because of how accessible the system will be for the wider audience.
Valve's direct involvement with handheld gaming PCs could potentially encourage other major OEMs to develop similar platforms and products. There's no question that PC makers will be closely monitoring how the Steam Deck will perform in terms of sales more so than the niche products from GPD or AYA. Should it launch to critical acclaim, then OEMs like Dell may reconsider reviving its Alienware UFO project as a competitor to the Steam Deck.