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About that PlayStation Phone..

December 28th, 2010

The rumour is that I won't get to see one at CES, but that Sony will launch the PlayStation Phone shortly after – at MWC, with a launch in April.

So, at risk of making foolish predictions: yes, it'll arrive this year, but no, it won't play PSP games. It'll run the smaller "PlayStation Minis", already available for PSP and PS3, instead, and possibly emulated PS1 titles (yes, FFVII).

Why? Well, first there's the issue of how to make a phone run PSP games. There are two ways to do that: build in the PSP chips (so, all the stuff in a PSP Go, plus the cellphone CPU). Sony's taken this route in the past (it built the PS1 chips into the PS2), but it's expensive, complicated and power hungry – especially with as many parts as the PSP has. These days Sony tends to use  method B.

Method B being emulation: take a more powerful processor and use software to emulate the older hardware. But in this case we're talking a 1GHz RISC CPU, and asking it to emulate the PSP's CPU, and the SiP with graphics inside, plus the Media Engine with its MPEG4 decoder, plus the encryption chips. That's a lot of work – even if the CPU is up to it, it'll suck the battery something awful.

It's also interesting to note that Sony has yet to release a PSP emulator for PS3 – something that, if possible, would be great (small, quickly downloadable games for online purchase, with a big back-catalogue). And the PS3 doesn't lack power; far from it.

And then there's the whole "muddying the waters" thing. Sony's thrown a lot of money at trying to sell the download-only PSP Go – putting the same spec into a phone would kill that product dead in the water (although it's close to that point already). If Sony wants to retain the PSP, it can't completely undercut it with something that does all-this-but-more.

Finally, it's also worth noting comments made by Kazuo Hirai to the New York Times recently:

Mr. Hirai said the fast rise of casual games could in fact be good for Sony’s gaming business.

“We’re seeing people who never had an interest in games join the gaming population,” he said. “That means that the gaming industry pie is getting bigger.”

Mr. Hirai was cautious about the idea of a PlayStation-cum-phone, however, saying he did not want to confuse game fans over which device to buy.

“We don’t want gamers to be asking, what’s the difference between that and a PSP,” Mr. Hirai said. “We have to come up with a message that users will understand."

Sony clearly wants a piece of the 'casual gaming' app market – and with good reason – but for as long as it wants to keep the PSP alive (even if only in Japan, perhaps) then the PS Phone needs to be something else entirely. And a Sony Ericsson branded handset with access to a PlayStation Minis store, plus old PS1 titles to emulate, wouldn't be half bad.

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