Three Reasons an Android PSP Phone Will Succeed (And Three Reasons It Won't)

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?


3. Piracy

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?

Written by Navneet Alang

Navneet Alang is a technology-culture writer based in Toronto. You can find him on Twitter at @navalang

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  • Geoff Dillard

    I don’t see this taking off at all, but I have been wrong before. Hopefully you don’t have to remove the battery to change games like the N-Gage.

  • David

    This is too good to be true but if it is going to be a real device, if done properly, it will murder the iPhone. The only viable argument in the why it will flop section is the piracy thing. There is currently a PSX emulator on the market right now that runs games very well. With Sony pushing it I could easily see an emulator/game selector specifically for the psp/psx games. No need to rewrite all the code. With the proper hardware configuration there wont be any issues at all. As far as the psp being pushed toward the tweens. With most of the gamers that started out growing up with games are getting older I know several that would love to take these older games with them on the go to play between meetings or during the commute to work. If you really want a good argument I would say the battery life is going to be a HUGE player on this. If they cant get the battery right where you can play more than 10 or 15 min without completely killing your phone to the point you cant even make a call then it will be game over. This is a huge factor when you talk about a Gaming Phone. I want to play games for an hour then turn around and make a call, send a few emails and still have enough battery to last the rest of the day without sticking it on the charger for the next hour.

  • This is a great idea, especially if the screen is big enough to text on without difficulty in landscape mode and if it has a slide out gaming pad. I wouldn’t really worry about piracy too much because if a successful app store for games in launched for the android phone, people will buy these games. The iPhone’s apps are easy to pirate, however, app store revenue is still through the roof!

  • TheObserver

    This will fail for several reasons.
    1 – The team already working on the PSP is already doing a terrible job with the PSP OS and user interface, not to mention the extremely dated and over priced hardware. They cannt possibly take on another OS on top of then PSP OS.

    2 – The controls on the PSP must be minimized to accommodate a phone form factor, yet the PSP customer base desperately wants a second analog stick. Opposite design philosophies.

    3 – Two operating systems on a a single phone? Hardly a elegant design. The PSP OS and user interface is already a huge failure compared to the iPhone OS.

    The PSP, must bite the bullet and go through a complete transformation if it will have any chance of surviving. Both the OS/GUI and hardware need to be completely changed. Obviously a entirely new development team need to be assembled. Price must also be lowered. Free games and movies should also be offered along with commercial games and rental movies (at a more reasonable price).

  • Garza 208

    I had the psp go and the controls on it are more than enough. PSP phone would work great. Also the newer psp with the built in mic are a phone all by themselfs, if you have internet access. All you need the to do is have pay for Skype. All Sony would really have to do is make a PSP with it’s own internet access, like smart-phones, have a better battery life and a touch screen to dial and txt. If Sony does make this PSPhone then I believe it would be a near perfect device. as far as games go why the need to make new codes for the game. You put a android and psp slim on top of eachother and you have the PSP fatboy. the hardware may make it a lil wider but nothing a true gamer wouldn’t mind.

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