Late last year, when rumours began to swirl around the 'PlayStation Phone' which Sony Ericsson reportedly had in development, I voiced some confusion over what, exactly, Sony was planning on doing with the portable and mobile end of its console development strategy.
In the first weeks of this year, we've seen a number of new pieces of the puzzle. For one thing, we now know that the so-called 'PlayStation Phone' is real - but that it's not being called that, instead being branded as a game-focused member of Sony Ericsson's Xperia line-up. In addition, certain media reports have suggested that we're mere days away from getting a proper look at the PSP's official successor, with a briefing scheduled for Tokyo on January 27.
It would arguably be a cheap shot to characterise this as a confusing splitting of Sony's handheld gaming brands, even if there's some truth to that accusation. The Xperia Play isn't the device people expected - despite tacking closer to the PlayStation brand than any of Sony's previous phones have, it's far from being a true marriage of PSP and mobile phone, and looks like it may even lack the ability to play digital versions of PSP games.
Such a device - leveraging the PlayStation heritage to some extent, but seemingly lacking the software legacy which many people had expected - would face an uphill battle to make a serious dent in the mobile gaming market at the best of times. With that in mind, the revelation that it will be overshadowed by the (presumably) all-singing, all-dancing PSP2 from the very start of its lifespan just starts to look like a kick in the teeth.
Is this a sign of a tug of war within Sony, or of a failure to communicate and strategise between the firm's disparate divisions? Or is there an overarching strategy here which we simply don't comprehend? Will all become clear on January 27?
One way to clarify the waters already is to ignore the Xperia Play entirely, and consider where Sony stands with regard to the PSP2 in light of recent leaks and rumours. The device looks set to appear in the second half of this year, suggesting a timetable by which it will be announced later this month, heavily showcased at E3 and on shelves in Autumn.
Rumours imply a device broadly comparable in prowess to the PS3, with a high resolution screen, twin analogue nubs and, unusually, a touch sensitive panel on the back of the unit. While none of these features have actually been confirmed in a solid manner, it's worth noting that even as more and more people are exposed to the device in the run-up to the probable announcement later in the month, none of the features have been debunked either. One other interesting point is that the system is also expected to eschew the digital-only approach of the PSPgo by sporting a physical media slot of some description.
In most regards, touch-sensitive back surface aside (and this, if true, may be more designed as an OS and application navigation system than as a game control interface, judging from Sony's own patent filings), this is a pretty linear and predictable, albeit very welcome, upgrade from the PSP. It all makes perfect sense, especially when you consider that such a device would be capable, in theory, of playing PS2 games just as the existing PSP can play PS1 games - opening up a potentially lucrative revenue stream for yet more of Sony's pre-HD content.