The PSP2 - or Next Generation Portable (NGP) - will definitely be the most technically advanced hand-held when it hits the streets (in Japan and the USA at least) this coming 'holiday period'. Combining uber-advanced CPU and GPU, dual analogs, touch sensitivity on both sides - there's no arguing that this is a capable little beast.
But I'm not sure that Sony is pushing at the right door. They were roundly beaten in the last battle of the handhelds, by a machine that was laughably inferior, but which introduced the disruptive technology of the touch screen.
Since then, the Apple iPhone has gone on to be the most-played portable gaming platform in the world. Although the often low ticket price of iOS games means that Nintendo may still be winning the revenue battle, iPhone has the mindshare. Wall Street Analysts, Lawyers and Doctors all play games now. Nintendo and Sony did not achieve that.
Bottom of the Form
NGP still has the familiar PSP form factor, one that is too big for comfortable pocketing and which is unequivocally aimed at the gamer. Knobby analogs spoil its aerodynamics, when sleek-lined minimalism is the vogue.
This Gamer-centricity flies in the face of the iPhone's (and smaller tablet PC's) do-it-all-ism. The PSP2 will doubtlessly be a capable media player and can probably handle IP video and voice calls.
But those joysticks still scream 'gaming console' - they still scream last century. People will not be strapping it to their arms while they go jogging. So, they'll need a separate device for that. And if that separate device can also play games, then why do they need a NGP?
Simplicity Not Final Fantasy
I used the office PSP a lot, more as a video player than anything else. I was always intending to buy one but I have never quite reached for the credit card. As soon as the iPhone arrived, the idea of PSP ownership just went out of my head, and despite being a total tech-whore, it's a decision I have never regretted.
Sony's increasingly advanced CPU/GPUs attempt to bring console games to the bus-bound but I don't think this is the correct approach.
Nintendo's barrage of primitive and simple party micro-games, and iPhone's swathe of Bejewelled
and Angry Birds
show that the mobile gamer wants simplicity, not Final Fantasy
. When I'm in an airport lounge, or on a train, I want a game I can pick up easily, and put down even moreso.
Backwardly Compatible Step
Nintendo made all the biggest and best selling Game Boy games, but then, that's the way of the world with Nintendo. Sony also struggled to win third-party support for their handheld, but they also failed to deliver winning and timely versions of their first-party titles.
Some of the best PSP games (Gran Turismo
) require a precision that is hindered by the small screen. And even if precision escapes unhindered, all that visual loveliness is diminished, wasted you might say, at small screen sizes.
The NGP may have backward compatibility, but that wasn't a winner for PS3, and it won't be for PSP either. Not because good PSP games are all too rare but because, by bringing home-console gaming to the handheld, Sony bring the IP obsolescence with it too.
Just as PS2 games looked laughably dated on PS3, PSP games will on NGP. But Super Mario Land
still looks (and plays) fine on GBA SP.
One final and as yet unrevealed aspect of the NGP will, unsurprisingly, be the price. All that tech won't come cheap.
That presents a big, mobile problem: People know that they drop, lose and break their mobile devices. This puts an unspoken, subconscious price ceiling on such devices. iPhone breaks this ceiling by its very desirability, its multi-function capabilities and the fact you can dodge paying for it all at once with a monthly contract. Will NGP be able do the same?
Geek Winner - Market Loser
I think the NGP is a winner from a geek perspective. It's a technical powerhouse, and an impressive piece of engineering. But I'm just remarkably unconvinced that it's the device the market is wanting. And I think Sony will be pushing uphill all the way with it.
The opinion expressed in this article is that of the author and does not reflect those of SPOnG.com except when it does.
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