When rumors of a possible Playstation-branded “PSP Phone” recently broke, the tech world was, more than anything, a bit baffled.
Here we had a rumor of a potential collaboration between Google and Sony, both of whom already have their own mobile ecosystems (Android on the one hand, and the Playstation Store on the other).
What’s more, no-one, it seems, is quite sure what to think of the rumored device, which is suggested to be a mix of a slider phone and the PSP Go. “Hardcore” gaming communities like Neogaf seemed a bit on the fence. Some saw the business possibilities for both Google and Sony, while others, who prefer a dedicated system for hardcore gamers, simply said “LOL, Wut?”.
But would an Android-powered, Playstation Phone succeed? The rumor – which Engadget seem to have run with some degree of confidence – seems a little sketchy. Some parts of it feel plausible. Sony does, after all, need something to compete against both Apple and Nintendo. But other parts – like the specs and rumored launch games – seem off.
So what would the prospects for an Android-powered PSP phone be? And more to the point, would you buy one?
Why It Will Work
1. People Will Want One
When the PSP launched, Sony had visions of it being an amazing “all-in-one device”. That never materialized, partly because it took so long to get digital content on the PSP, and partly because it was quickly outclassed. The PSP’s browser is on par with early cellphone WAP browsers; its media functions were decent, but are now clunky; and it never found the right demographic mix.
But by mixing the gaming capability of the PSP with the smoothness of Android, you get a PSP-esque device that can actually browse the web, download apps. At the same time, rather than the bite-size games that work on the iPhone, you get an actual gaming device* that has multimedia/web functionality.
On top of this, people have been clamoring for a PSP phone for a long time now. All-in-one is the way to go, and this combination of Sony’s gaming expertise and a great mobile OS may be just what the doctor ordered.
2. Android Needs a Gaming Boost
With “Froyo” – i.e. the latest version of Android – most people agree that Google’s mobile OS is now at least on par with Apple’s iOS. But one significant gap in Android is in gaming. Game makers haven’t taken to the platform for a variety of reasons: piracy, a sub-par buying experience, and a variety of hardware (touch vs. keyboard etc.)
If Google and Sony-Ericsson can establish not only a section of the Android Market for these Playstation games, but also a hardware standard that other Android-phone makers can adopt, they will have essentially created a new gaming platform that benefits both parties. Sony boosts their flagging mobile gaming biz, while Google can help Android compete on one of the few areas that it still lags iOS. Most importantly, the joint platform will give both parties a major selling point.
3. Platforms Are The Future
When people think of the massive success of iOS, they often talk about the iPhone – forgetting that a large part of iOS’s success comes from the tens of millions of iPod Touches Apple has sold. By putting iOS on three (and, with “iTV”, maybe four) devices, Apple has exponentially increased its reach.
Platforms that run on multiple, multi-function devices often get more traction than those that don’t (think about how Microsoft completely overtook Apple in the early days of the PC). By establishing “Android-Playstation” as something that can run on a variety of phones – albeit those with standardized controls – Google and Sony may be able to create a fourth viable mobile gaming ecosystem (the other three being Nintendo, Apple and non-smartphones). What’s more, with that ecosystem in place, it warms things up for a “Sony iPad” running Android – something that, if the content is compelling, could be a real competitor to the iPad.
Additionally, though right now it sounds like this will be a separate platform than the PSP, if Sony know what’ s good for them, they’ll make the two ecosystems interoperable.
Why It Will Flop
1. Who Will Buy It?
A big problem that Sony-Ericsson would face with a phone is demographics. Smartphones – particularly the higher-end Android/iOS varieties – tend to be bought by those who are slightly older and of equally be either sex. Meanwhile, the PSP tends to skew towards a teen/early twenties male demographic. Making a Playstation Phone would clearly be an attempt to lure that younger crowd toward a smartphone – but will they sign up for contracts and the expense of a fancy phone? Unlikely.
Worse, if the rumors of a ‘touch-based’ analog control scheme are true, that will immediately put off gamers who prefer the responsiveness and accuracy of buttons.
2. Games, Games, Games
The least plausible aspect of this rumor so far is the launch of another gaming platform. If that’s the case, Sony and other developers will have to reprogram titles for this Android-based system. That means that, rather than playing the existing PSP back catalog, we’d have to wait for newly developed games that, according to this rumor, won’t be any different from PSP games in graphics.
Much more doable would be the inclusion of PSP hardware in the phone. Not only would that make the system able to play a large (if unspectacular) existing library. But whether that’s either technically possible or financially feasible… Survey says “No”.
One more consideration: with so many people moving over to the bite-size gaming, will a system that aims for full-featured games succeed?
One of Android’s biggest strengths – its openness – is also its biggest problem when it comes to gaming. Because of the variety of hardware, piracy is rampant. According to Sony, this is also the reason the PSP software sales are so poor.
Unless both companies figure out a way to circumvent piracy, this could really hurt the potential platform.
Share your wisdom: would you buy a PSP Phone running Android? Why or why not?