Back in October, I urged Sony to get back to innovating in the handheld market and inspiring us once again. For a company whose tagline is “Make. Believe.” They’ve certainly done that lately – making me believe that they want to copy a company like HP rather than being innovative and imaginative like they once were.
I looked toward the whispers of the so called “PSP Phone” that’s recently made the rounds with leaked photos and videos as a glimmer of hope. The PSP Phone has been a concept wished for by PSP fans for a long time, but recently we’ve seen legitimate evidence that it will exist. The most recent information I’ve read regarding the release of the device is from Pocket-lint, reporting that Sony will launch the PSP Phone at Mobile World Congress 2011 in Barcelona, rather than next month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
If Sony’s past gives us any indication, they’re capable of making great handheld devices. For the unique situation of combining a flagship gaming device with a phone, they are going to have to do two specific things in order to make the union a success.
Second Generation PSP Gaming
The first thing is designing the hardware to not be just a PSP + phone, but a PSP 2 + phone. The device needs to represent a new benchmark for mobile gaming. Designing the PSP Phone to simply play existing PSP games will not only be unimpressive, but it won’t sell well.
Why? Because the market is already saturated with PSP devices which have been on the market for almost 7 years and Sony has yet to introduce a next generation version of the device! A whopping 62 million PSP systems have been sold worldwide as of September 2010. Several iterations have been released over the years, and all of them are capable of playing the same games. Releasing a device that can play the same old PSP games while there’s already 62 million devices that do so out there is naturally going to limit your demographic to those who don’t already have a PSP but want one, and perhaps some of those who already have one but want to combine their phone and their gaming device. The world has been waiting for the PSP 2, and now would be a great time to make that happen.
Others who are mostly uninterested in gaming won’t pick up the device over other phones because it will likely be more expensive than the competition which would be able to get away with less powerful hardware and thus cheaper prices (lacking the requirement to play serious games, not casual handheld ones) while still running the same Android version.
Additionally, creating a phone that can only play existing PSP games would also needlessly underuse the rumored specifications of the upcoming PSP Phone. Existing PSP devices have a 333MHz CPU, 32MB or 64MB of RAM, and an underwhelming 480×272 resolution screen. Scaling these games up to a presumed 854×480 screen would make them look even more outdated, and running them without allowing developers to take advantage of the rumored 1GHz Snapdragon CPU and 512MB of RAM would be nearly criminal.
So why not let developers take advantage of the hardware and create games that are “PSP 2” worthy? Doing this alone and abandoning all of the other PSP devices that can currently run any game in the vast library would be a bad move that would break a gaming eco-system that stretches 6 years. This is why Sony needs to launch two devices.
Launch the PSP 2 Along With the PSP Phone
Sony needs to launch a phoneless PSP 2 device alongside a PSP 2 Phone. Without it, suddenly a prerequisite for the most modern handheld gaming experience would be a cellular contract. That’s like requiring that you subscribe to the gym in order to own a car – the two simply shouldn’t be connected. Not only would a cellular contract be required, but you might also need to be on a specific carrier.
If a PSP 2 Phone launches and a phoneless PSP 2 doesn’t launch alongside it, what happens if the PSP 2 Phone is only available on GSM carriers (as they commonly are, here in the US)? That would rule out the entire Sprint/Verizon demographic. Suddenly, if you are a Sprint/Verizon customer, and you want to play the latest handheld games, you have to switch cellular carriers?! That’s asking absolutely way too much of customers and is not going to get the PSP 2 Phone sold.
A PSP 2 could very simply be the same Android powered device, but lacking the cellular hardware and hopefully bringing down the cost to be even less than the PSP Phone (subsidized, a PSP 2 Phone would likely be less expensive than an unsubsidized PSP 2, assuming same hardware). Even if the two were priced the same, it would still open up the demographic of people who have carriers that won’t support the PSP 2 Phone, to people who don’t have any control over their wireless choices (ie: teens), and of course to those who can’t afford (or use alternatives to) cellular contracts.
What’s the big deal if the people willing to pay for cellular contracts (specifically, GSM carriers) are the only ones able to play the latest handheld games on the PSP 2 Phone? Developers are the big deal. Without a mass-media audience to sell to, you’ll never get the AAA developer support you need to differentiate between a hardcore gaming device and casual iPhone/Android gaming.
Continue reading on page 2… “The Precedent”