Whenever somebody starts gunning for the iPhone, we breathe a heavy sigh. Call it callous, but after watching even the most promising iPhone killers skid on their faces, it just hurts our little hearts too much to hang our hopes on one more, only to see it hit the pavement.
But Sony might be onto something.
Although first reports of the so-called “PlayStation phone” remain extremely sparse on details, one thing has been made clear: It will be a gaming machine. And that might be the most promising news we could have asked for. The PlayStation Portable may not have be a shining feather in Sony’s cap, but if there’s one thing Sony can leverage to push the iPhone down, over a decade’s experience with gaming consoles might be it. After all, this is company that has been around the block a few times, while Apple still has its fingers crossed for a sole developer running into its arms on the desktop.
What exactly will it look like? We can only hope that we’ll see a prototype at CTIA later this month. Until then, it’s all speculation. Here’s what we think – and hope – is in store.
Apple’s catalog of over 100,000 apps makes it almost impossible for any new phone to come out and compete on sheer flexibility. But Sony has a resource few companies in the world can match: a back catalog of hundreds of PSP games just waiting for a better platform. These are real games with dozens of hours of gameplay, not throwaway bubble-popping apps and Tetris clones like the majority of material that jams up the iTunes store. For serious gamers, a PlayStation phone could be like the paintball to Apple’s Nerf wars.
The iPhone’s biggest stylistic triumph is also its biggest gaming failure. It has no control buttons. Although some iPhone apps, like iD software’s incredibly clever Wolfenstein 3D port, have found ways to manipulate the touch screen in ways that resemble a traditional control scheme, there’s still no replacement for a good old-fashioned click under the finger. Meanwhile, Sony’s DualShock controllers are pretty much the industry gold standard, and the PSP has shown that Sony knows how to make it mobile. As long as Sony doesn’t fold to the trend of touchscreen mania, a full directional pad and four-button array would make the PlayStation phone the most potent and game-friendly phone out there.
Massive OLED Screen
The iPhone’s 3.5-inch screen could be called adequate, but it still looks like garbage beside the 4.3-inch portable movie theater on a PSP. A cell phone display doesn’t have to be – and can’t quite be – that gargantuan, but the 3.8-incher on the PSP Go and the Motorola Droid’s 3.7-inch WVGA screen both proved a bigger screen could fit in the pocket. A larger screen would both make the PlayStation phone better for gaming, and better for movies, than the iPhone. And after seeing the OLED beauty on the Microsoft Zune HD, we’re pretty much sold on making it one of those.
$200 after Carrier Subsidy
Sony Ericsson just doesn’t seem to like to get cozy with carriers, but it will need to if the PlayStation phone will make it off the ground in the United States. Whether the subsidy model we use here makes sense or not, American consumers have been coddled by it, and we expect to pay no more than $200 for ultra-premium hardware after laying down ink for a two-year contract. Sony might be able to pry a little more out of consumer pockets by hawking the phone as a console and handset in one, there’s no way it can go above $300 and hope to succeed.
Google Android or Windows Phone 7 Operating System
Sony already has a neat little operating system going on the PlayStation Portable that mimics the “Xross” interface of the PlayStation 3, but as anyone who has used it for for browsing can tell you, it’s rough around the edges. Let’s not forget that the PSP was originally released in 2004 – a time when smartphones were still in diapers. Sony needs to find a way to make existing PSP games jive with an existing mobile OS like Android or Windows Phone 7, not attempt to build a phone into the existing software on the PSP.
As the T-Mobile G1 proved, you can wrap some impressive software in a brick of a handset, but you won’t get far with it. Sony needs to step up its game and made the PlayStation phone a piece of hardware that will inspire lust the same way the iPhone does. A black finish is almost a given for a PlayStation product, but how about an incredibly slick carbon fiber shell like the Sony Vaio X series? Real metal accents? Sliding parts that feel like they’re on rails? All of these factors will contribute to whether or not the PlayStation phone is perceived as a unique challenger, or just another pitiful clone.