Sony's Surprise

PSP2 holds few surprises, but PlayStation Suite could change the face of mobile gaming.

Published as part of our sister-site GamesIndustry.biz's widely-read weekly newsletter, the GamesIndustry.biz Editorial, is a weekly dissection of an issue weighing on the minds of the people at the top of the games business. It appears on Eurogamer after it goes out to GI.biz newsletter subscribers.

Much of the hotly anticipated unveiling of the next PSP in Tokyo this week was directly from the classic Sony playbook. In a blaze of marketing-led "future vision" videos and immense technological claims, the company revealed a console which proves that it has lost none of its ability to design extraordinarily desirable consumer hardware. Echoing the impact which the original PSP had on an audience used to the much more robust, child-friendly hardware design of Nintendo's handhelds, the PSP2 is sleek, attractive and about as close to "sexy" as a slab of plastic and silicon can get.

So far, so Sony. This is what the company does best - the day when Sony can't build an eye-catching piece of cutting edge hardware is the day when the entire company might as well pack its bags and go home. What was much more interesting about the conference was how Sony fared outside its comfort zone - to assess the firm's success or failure in the realm of things like software and services, which have previously been the Achilles' Heel of a company long ruled by engineers.

This, after all, is the first console launch of the post-Kutaragi era - the first chance that the new guard at the top of Sony Computer Entertainment, people like Kaz Hirai and Shuhei Yoshida, have had to stamp their authority on platform strategy. PlayStation Move provided a pointer to some of their thinking - an interesting attempt to leverage existing technology in a low-cost and potentially disruptive way - but it would have been a step too far to assume that future console launches from the firm would follow the same pattern.

Indeed, PSP2 (or Next Generation Portable, as it is presently known, with a more friendly moniker presumably to follow in the coming months along with other minor details like a date and a price point) is not really a departure from what we might have expected to see from Sony under Ken Kutaragi. What is, however, is the company's other announcement - PlayStation Suite, a fascinating departure for the company's platform strategy which, despite being overshadowed by PSP2, may turn out to be the more important announcement in the long term.

PlayStation Suite is Sony's attempt to grow the PlayStation brand into the mobile phone space - and in stark contrast to the strategy we might have expected from the Sony of old, it's an extraordinarily clever commercial play which shuns hardware launches in favour of a service proposition. Essentially, Sony recognises that smartphones have all reached a certain base level of performance which makes them into viable platforms for the PlayStation software library. Given that, the need to build custom "gamer phone" hardware is gone - every modern phone is a potential gaming handset. It just needs the software.

Sony's scheme, then, is to become a major supplier of gaming software and services to smartphones - specifically, smartphones running the Android operating system, which encompasses just about every worthwhile modern smartphone that isn't an iPhone. A PlayStation Store will be made available for Android, supplying a range of game software which has gone through PlayStation brand certification - and including, it seems, a range of Sony's back-catalogue titles alongside newer software.

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