Playstation Phone – N-Gage in disguise?


This isn’t the first time rumors have sprouted about a Sony Ericsson Playstation branded phone (Playstation Phone or PSPhone, we are still not sure). Gaming aficionados have demanded one for ages. And many have pinned it as Sony Ericsson’s only hope to make a major come-back in the phone market. Details about the prototype, however, are only just starting to surface. Earlier, in two major articles, Engadget posted pictures and details about the prototype running Android 2.1.

(Image Source)

Is it real?

This, of course, would be the first question to ask. Right now, Engadget is the only authority we have on this subject. The blog, however, reminds us of its accomplishments in the past in regards to leaked gadgets. That does a better job of convincing us of the device’s authenticity. Also, we would think it highly unlikely that a fanboy would spend so much effort making such a perfect model, along with the software running on it, just to get rumor mills spinning. So we are going to assume that it is real. And the Android OS (almost every article mentions a different version!) running on it is also real.

Gaming Phones?

So here we have a phone that is aimed at gamers (surprise). Those of us who have paid attention to history know that gaming phones have never really worked well. Nokia tried it with the original N-Gage, and we all know how that went. Nokia tried it again with the N-Gage platform, and we all know how that went, as well. Spice tried to entire gamers by offering a phone with a detachable gaming joystick, but Spice is a small player and we will ignore this attempt. Lenovo tried it too with its i909, and it never made the mass market.

The biggest sign of the failure, or simply the infeasibility, of gaming phones is not the failed attempts of these companies. It’s that the biggest mobile manufacturers (save Nokia) have never attempted something aimed solely at the gaming audience. It just doesn’t work, and they know it.

But surely, Sony Ericsson has thought out its strategy well? Surely, this phone will be everything that the N-Gage failed to be?

PSP Phone (PSPhone?)

So what is this Playstation Phone that everyone is talking about? It’s a, well, phone. It runs a flavor of Android. And its hardware is no better (or worse, in its defense) than what the current breed of Android phones offers. What separates it from the other Android phones, then? A single piece of software, that’s what.

The phone runs something currently labeled as the Z-System. This is the software that will act as the “Playstation” platform on the phone and run games tailor-made for the platform.

Hold on. A phone that runs an OS for which existing games already exist. But it also ships an additional “platform” that can run games made specifically for it.

Doesn’t this sound familiar? Of course it does. This, in essence, is the N-Gage 2.0 strategy. Sony Ericsson is taking a leaf out of Nokia’s books. And it’s picked out the worst leaf it could find, it seems.

Welcome to the N-Gage World

Sony Ericsson has now entered a territory earlier explored only by one other major cell phone manufacturer – Nokia. Why would Sony Ericsson succeed where Nokia couldn’t?

It’s easy to understand why N-Gage, Z-System or any similar platform would fail. It’s a lot more difficult to imagine how it would succeed.

Remember that Sony Ericsson is making an Android phone. So the phone can already run the thousands of Android games out there. The hardware that it offers to Android games is the same hardware that it offers to Z-System. This means that games running on the Z-System won’t be technologically superior. They will be able to consume only the amount of resources that Android games do.

We already know that the graphics on N-Gage games were not superior to native Symbian games. In fact most N-Gage games were simply ports of their java counterparts.

Flawed Strategy?

In such a scenario, what motivation does a game developer have to develop for the Z-System, especially when the platform is running on an Android phone, which can run games of similar capabilities? It’s obvious that Android will always have a larger user base than Z-System. Wouldn’t the developer just develop for Android instead and cover more users?

Looking at it this way, the Sony Ericsson strategy seems fundamentally flawed. However, it is no small company. It is one of the biggest phone manufacturers in the world. Sony is one of the biggest consumer electronics manufacturers in the world. Sony will not allow the usage of the Playstation branding on a device that can ruin the brand image of the entire Playstation line-up. Not even as a last-ditch effort to salvage Sony Ericsson’s shrinking market share in the smartphone industry. Nor would Sony Ericsson come out with a product that reeks of an amateurish attempt at making a gaming phone. They know their business. So it should be clear we do not doubt the strategy of Sony Ericsson itself. We simply doubt the market success of the PSP Phone as we know it today.

Silver Linings

True, the Z-System, like the N-Gage app, will allow developers a little more lee-way in accessing the hardware, so that games can run more efficiently. This is the entire point of the platform. So, to an extent, games will be better. But the N-Gage fiasco does little to get our hopes up about the Playstation Phone. Will they be better enough to get consumers to buy a phone to play them? And will they be better enough to make developers make unique titles for the platform? Unless the titles are unique, Sony Ericsson can forget enticing consumers into buying the phone. No one is going to buy a gaming phone to be able to play ported versions of Android games, which have no additional features apart from a few more music tracks.

Another thing that the Z-System can offer gamers is access to an online community, again something that Nokia tried with N-Gage. But this would need to be the most well-thought-out, best online experience the Sony Ericsson can provide if they want buyers.

We will have to wait and watch how this plays out. Consumers seem excited, but we remain skeptical. Will this be the next big revolution in the smartphone industry? Or will this go the N-gage way and end up in oblivion?

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