However, that's not to say that there aren't still major obstacles on this road. For a start, there's track record. You'd be forgiven for forgetting the last time that SCE put the PlayStation brand on a more general piece of hardware - I'd also almost forgotten the ill-fated PSX, until I ran into one being sold for next to nothing in a second-hand hardware store last week. Combining a PlayStation 2 with a high-end DVR system and various other media capabilities, the PSX was arguably a useful testbed for some of the PS3's media functions, but unquestionably a commercial disaster, and one which SCE would be justified in seeing as a stain on the PlayStation brand.
For another thing, there's the present status of the PlayStation Portable platform itself. While pledging ongoing support, Sony executives tacitly acknowledge that this is a platform which is winding down - even if it's being sustained pretty solidly in Japan by the likes of Capcom's Monster Hunter franchise, there's no question but that a replacement must be on the horizon.
Some speculation in the past has suggested that the next generation of PSP could solve the question of the PSP Phone for once and for all, by sweeping into the market fully equipped with phone functionality. In all likelihood, this would involve copying Apple's strategy by launching a phone product alongside a near-identical non-phone version (iPhone and iPod Touch, in Apple's case). It's a possibility that can't be ruled out for Sony, and one which would obviously involve SCE taking total ownership of the platform rather than simply working on gaming technology to Sony Ericsson. It would be a whole new set of competencies for SCE to learn - but as Apple demonstrates, that's not necessarily an insurmountable barrier.
However, what we saw this week doesn't fit that speculation. Although the PSP Phone prototype whose details were leaked across the internet was substantially more powerful than the present PSP, every indication was that the device was a derivation of the existing PSP rather than an indication of where Sony is going with the next PSP. Sporting a design deeply similar to the PSP Go, it would be a powerful Android phone that could also run PSP games, rather than a genuine evolution of the PSP platform.
So here's the real question mark in my mind regarding the PSP Phone leak - does it really make sense for Sony, probably less than a year away from getting PSP2 out into the public eye, to start building tech from the (pretty unsuccessful) PSPgo into phone handsets? One might argue that it could help to head off Apple's assault on the gaming sector - and certainly, a phone that can play Monster Hunter Portable would be pretty attractive in Japan - but the potential for a PSX style high profile failure which would pollute a future, PSP2-focused effort cannot be discounted.
One thing seems clear, at least, and that's that SCE and Sony Ericsson are most certainly talking to one another now. If there was ever an issue between the two sides of the business, the work that's been done on the prototype seen this week suggests that it's been resolved. No doubt the looming threat of Apple has helped to focus minds on both sides wonderfully - but a great many sceptics will need a great deal of convincing that their collaboration can buck the history of PlayStation's dalliances outside its core gaming market and create a platform that genuinely gives Cupertino some sleepless nights.
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