Sony (NYSE: SNE) is not yet announcing a “PlayStation Phone” — that, supposedly, is being saved for the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona in February — but today it announced two products it hopes will help it hold on to mindshare and market share in the lucrative but highly competitive world of gaming, where it competes nowadays not only against traditional rivals like Nintendo, but newer threats from the mobile gaming world.
In a presentation today in Tokyo, Sony unveiled a new device called the Next Generation Portable — which is the closest that we’ve seen yet to a PlayStation mobile handset — and it also debuted the PlayStation Suite, an app that lets users on the Android platform play older PlayStation games, the first time that PlayStation content will be able to be consumed on anything other than a Sony-specific device.
The NGP appears to be Sony’s answer to Nintendo’s 3DS handheld device, which was unveiled earlier this month.
As with the 3DS, the NGP has incorporated a number of smartphone elements in its specifications. The NGP features a five-inch touch-screen display, a slide-out rear touch panel, front and back cameras, a microphone and speaker, as well as 3G, WiFi and bluetooth connectivity.
As with the 3DS, the NGP will be using that connectivity to greatly enhance the game-playing experience, in this case in a service Sony is calling “Near.” Not only will users be able to play with other gamers in cloud-based competitions, but they will also be able to use a GPS tracker on the device to play games with people in their vicinity.
The NGP — which Sony says will give users a gaming experience comparable with that of its main home product, the PlayStation 3 — is Sony’s follow-on product from its last handheld gaming device, the PSP (PlayStation Portable), and it will be hoping that this newer device will fare in the market better then its predecessor.
As the WSJ points out, Sony has sold 67 million units of the PSP since the device hit the market in 2004; but Nintendo’s DS handheld has sold twice as many in the same period.
The second product that Sony unveiled today gives the company a chance to deliver PlayStation content to a wider variety mobile devices, which have become an increasingly important platform for gaming — to the point of taking away market share from the traditional devices that are Sony’s bread and butter.
The PlayStation Suite is effectively an app that will act as a portal to the PlayStation back catalogue, which can then be played on any Android-based device, whether smartphone or tablet. PlayStation Suite will be available “this calendar year”, says Sony. And the company says it will also open the platform to new developers to create games specifically for the portal.
The PS Suite is a very important step for Sony, because not only will it encourage developers who had potentially strayed away from PlayStation to platforms that appeared more open, but it will be a way that people can get introduced to PlayStation content, and potentially consider buying the more lucrative PlayStation handware in the future.
Taken together, these two products show that Sony is trying harder than ever before to make sure that their PlayStation product line is changing with the times, and is making itself as accessible as possible to the greatest number of people. If that doesn’t get people — and crucially, developers, using PlayStation more, nothing will.
Pricing for both products has not yet been revealed.