updated 12:05 am EST, Thu December 23, 2010
Sony's Kaz Hirai hints at PSP2 touch features
Sony Computer Entertainment head Kaz Hirai in a discussion posted Wednesday evening confirmed that the PSP2 would have a touchscreen. The future gaming system, which had been in development virtually since the original was launched in 2004, would have a mixture of both buttons and touch. He wouldn't be drawn into specifics by the New York Times but portrayed it as a best-of-both-worlds scenario where games could follow either an iPhone-style model, a conventional PSP game, or elements of the two.
"Depending on the game, there are ones where you can play perfectly well with a touch panel," he said. "But you can definitely play immersive games better with physical buttons and pads. I think there could be games where you're able to use both in combination."
An early prototype has already confirmed some of the early plans, which would have included dual analog sticks, a front camera and even a backside trackpad, though this wouldn't necessarily reflect the final device.
Hirai touched on competition with Apple and Google and stressed that Sony would always have a niche of hardcore gaming, since Android and iPhone games were "fundamentally different" and often more casual. Regardless, he didn't deny the impact touchscreen smartphones had and argued that the rise of casual mobile games through Apple could feed into Sony's audience by expanding the acceptability of mobile gaming as a whole. "We're seeing people who never had an interest in games join the gaming population," the executive noted.
Sony has usually been the biggest target of the iPhone and iPod touch in their incursion into gaming, losing share and revenue as its hardware has been neither technically advanced enough nor as fully multi-purpose. Many have dropped the platform both to consolidate media, games and phone calls around one device but also due to cost. While the up front price of an iPhone or iPod touch is often similar, the games are usually just a quarter or less the price and, increasingly, more visually appealing.
Sony has turned to price cuts and TV ads directly mocking the iPhone to try and reverse course in the short term, but with little success.
A revival of the PlayStation brand in mobile will, like Apple, emphasize a more consistent experience, Hirai cautioned. While not outright confirming the PlayStation phone, likely to be called the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play, he admitted that any future phone would need to keep the "PlayStation's strengths intact" and avoid splitting the user base deeply or at all between the PSP and the phone.
The Xperia Play may run on a significantly different platform than the PSP2, although the choice of software on the non-phone system hasn't been leaked so far. As leaked to date, the phone would run on Android 2.3 with a PlayStation app providing a library of games native to its controls. So far, it should run on a 1GHz Snapdragon processor, carry a five-megapixel camera and combine a large touchscreen with PlayStation hardware buttons, support for which has already been woven into the OS by Google.
The PSP2 may ultimately be the last piece of Sony's newer gaming strategy to fall into place, since the Xperia Play is unofficially slated to ship in April where its more focused cousin might not ship until near the end of 2011. Apple by then will have upgraded the iPhone and iPod touch, possibly with dual-core processors and more storage.