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This article was published on September 4, 2012

Why PC hardware needs a company like Valve to truly innovate

Why PC hardware needs a company like Valve to truly innovate
Nick Summers
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Nick Summers

Nick Summers is a technology journalist for The Next Web. He writes on all sorts of topics, although he has a passion for gadgets, apps and Nick Summers is a technology journalist for The Next Web. He writes on all sorts of topics, although he has a passion for gadgets, apps and video games in particular. You can reach him on Twitter, circle him on Google+ and connect with him on LinkedIn.

It looks like Valve really does want to start producing PC hardware, in some form or another. The company posted an opening for an industrial designer on its website recently, re-igniting rumors of a ‘Steam Box‘ gaming console.

The most interesting part of the job description, highlighted by TNW’s own Emil Protalinski, is as follows:

“Valve is traditionally a software company. Open platforms like the PC and Mac are important to us, as they enable us and our partners to have a robust and direct relationship with customers. We’re frustrated by the lack of innovation in the computer hardware space though, so we’re jumping in. Even basic input, the keyboard and mouse, haven’t really changed in any meaningful way over the years. There’s a real void in the marketplace, and opportunities to create compelling user experiences are being overlooked.”

Valve is moving in a very interesting direction right now. The firm is known for video game development, such as the Half Life, Portal and Team Fortress franchises, as well as creating the popular PC platform and marketplace Steam.

However, Valve showed signs of greater aspirations earlier this year, when it announced that it would be publishing apps on Steam from September. Mark Richardson was quoted in Forbes as saying the new expansion would involve not just gaming-related software, but “creativity and productivity” apps too.

The move was unexpected, and now no-one quite knows what Valve has planned next. The company is well known for being very tight-lipped about its projects – especially the future of the Half Life series – and using very creative or unforeseen marketing campaigns.

The PC hardware space really needs companies like Valve though. At the moment if you ask any general consumer what the most desirable laptop or desktop is, you’ll be given a different answer every time. HP, Sony and Toshiba are frequent suggestions, but when it comes to hardware for more general use, no firm stands head or shoulders above the rest.

Part of the problem is that everyone is trying to emulate Apple’s success, not by innovating themselves but by simply copying the look and feel of the Mac hardware. The result is massed of knock-off MacBook Air clones, each of them as uninspired and forgettable as the last.

Valve, however, feels like a very different company. Everything they touch screams of quality, and they already have a devoted following (most PC gamers love ‘em) that’s reminiscent of Apple’s own infectious brand loyalty. As an example Steam already has it’s own distinct look and feel, far removed from Apple’s obsession with white and chrome interfaces.

If you’ve ever seen a laptop or desktop PC designed specifically for gaming, you could be forgiven for mistaking it as a Transformer. Products by Alienware in particular are renowned for being pretty heavy on the neon lights and sharp edged grills. Valve, if they choose to produce hardware especially for this market, could probably do something much cleaner and easier on the eye and attract a much area of PC gamers.

However, Valve could be creating a video game console, a new control interface (note the quote’s example of “basic input”), or something else entirely. As the mystery surrounding Valve’s direction deepens, the excitement around it only increases. The firm clearly wants to innovate, and that can only be good for PC hardware – both for general consumers and gamers.

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