TotalRoundTable: The Portable Nature of Mobile PlayStations

Or: How Sony decisively lost the handheld wars.
Author: Marc N. Kleinhenz
Published: January 26, 2011
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Today is (supposedly) the day: Sony, at the grand forum of the PlayStation Meeting in Tokyo, will unveil the PlayStation Portable 2. Or maybe it’s the PlayStation Phone, which was (supposedly) supposed to have been formally presented at the company’s CES press conference three weeks ago.

Whatever the case, this is an event that – unsurprisingly – has been a long time coming for the TotalPlayStation crew. It’s been so long, in fact, that we started discussing, debating, and snickering over the differences and distinctions between the two new, possibly (inadvertently) rival mobile platforms, at the beginning of December. Consider it TPS’s version of the S.S. Minnow’s three-hour tour.

Joining founder Sam Bishop, features overlord Marc Kleinhenz, gallant knight Sir Gordon Wheelmeier, and Sith Lord Shaun Mason this time is Ryan DeLaRosa, of the popular Game Over Nation (up until recently, the G-ovah!) podcast, which was co-created by Javi Rodriguez, of Game Scoop! Cartoons fame.

And be sure to check out the entire TPS staff's reaction to Sony's announcement here.

Marc N. Kleinhenz, features editor:

Sony has been busy in the handheld arena, albeit surreptitiously so. It has been prepping the PSP2 for quite some time now, which, according to the latest insider reports, is shaping up to be quite the system: it is essentially the PSP go (just as the 3DS is essentially the DSi), replete with digital-only distribution, but with the added functions of a second thumbstick (yes, they're sticks, and not "nubs") and a touch panel on the back of the system, aping both Nintendo's and Apple's input mechanisms. The screen will be larger and, of course, clearer, and – here's the main draw – it will have the computational and graphical horsepower to be described as a mini PS3, exactly like how the PSP was a "PS2 lite" before it. It is largely and widely assumed that there will be a great deal of functionality between the PSP2 and the PS3, once again mimicking Nintendo's long-ago strategies of connectivity between its consoles and Game Boy portables. The estimated price? No less than $299.99, the price at which the PSX and PS2 debuted (although, of course, this is purely speculation).

But wait – there's more. Sony has also been slaving away at a second handheld platform, this one sacrificing some of the raw horsepower of the new PSP but adding in the functionality of a phone. It is rumored to be called the (surprise, surprise) PSPhone, and it is largely expected to leapfrog the Droid as the iPhone's main competitor. Not much else is known. Will the PSP2 and PSPhone share games, at least PSP Minis? Will they both feature the ability to communicate with the PS3 and the PSN, as well as brandish trophies and the like? Is there a sharp, black-and-white delineation between the two, or is it more of an amorphous, gray zone?

When discussing this with my wife the other day (yes, we are both nerds – deal with it), she had what I thought was a rather astute observation. Sony has been for quite some time, but most especially in this current generation, of the mentality of lifting wholesale from the other manufacturers, whether it be the addition of SixAxis or Move motion controls or the arbitrary selling of the PS3 in different "versions." The rather odd decision to go about releasing two portables would fit this pattern exactly: one is the iPod (Touch) and the other, the iPhone, offering users largely the same experience with the sole and fundamental difference between them being a phone plan. The strategy, she says, is essentially one of, "Well, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

After such a long-winded introduction, what do you think?
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