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A Brief History of the Elusive PSPhone

Pocket Gamer | 4 Jul 2009 13:00
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Before 2008 and the iPhone App Store, mobile gaming was always a bottle of champagne waiting for the cork to pop. Several manufacturers tried to find a way to make the platform viable as a serious gaming platform - Nokia making the most spirited effort with the N-Gage QD - but every effort culminated in more or less embarrassing failure.

Amidst all this ambition and experimentation, one rumored device stood out as tantalizingly plausible, and, going on the substance of the rumors and the inevitable graphical mock-ups, highly desirable: the PSPhone.

It's plausible, of course, because Sony Ericsson is a major handset manufacturer and Sony - one half of that troubled marriage - is a major console manufacturer and games publisher. Rumors have been washing around for almost as long as the PSP has been available, varying in viscosity from solid to gas, and many of these have been set in motion by the most credible sources possible.

In 2007, Sony Ericsson's Peter Ahnegard admitted to Pocket Gamer that the PSPhone was "something that we're looking at," but he wouldn't be drawn on specifics. Would we be seeing it by Christmas? "Before Christmas, certainly... but exactly which Christmas I can't confirm!" Quite.

That was in August. In November, further rumours emerged from the Sony Computer Entertainment side of the net when co-chief operating officer Jim Ryan told the Financial Times, "The PlayStation is a proven success and so is Sony Ericsson. Convergence with the two arms working together is definitely plausible."

The following day Sony scotched the rumor, but it wasn't long before another rumor took its place. At the end of 2007, Stuff Magazine published an initially overlooked mock-up of the PSPhone, and in early 2008, a blurb in Sony Magazine revealed that the device would be out by as early as February of that year. It never came.

In June 2008, an article in Marketing Week suggested that the device could be available by Christmas 2009 (still a possibility, admittedly), and since then the flow of the rumor has continued to swell and shrink.

Sony moved to stanch it entirely in January by denying Sony Ericsson the PlayStation brand, a spokesman saying, "In the past, we have been keen that our product proposition lives up to brand promise, and we feel at the moment the technical specs are not high enough to put such a prestigious brand on a phone."

But in May, Sony Ericsson president Kideki Komiyama got the flow going again by averring to the Financial Times that the PSPhone "could happen."

Could it? Well, if the spate of rumors that emerged last week is anything to go by, yes, but it may not have anything to do with Sony Ericsson.

On the one hand, Japanese business daily Nikkei indicated that Sony is about to set up a team to explore the possibility of a device that combines Sony Ericsson's phone technology with Sony's gaming technology. It sounds very much like a joint project.

On the other hand Marketing Week has reported that relations between the two companies have grown "frosty" over SE's handling of the Walkman brand, and so if there is to be a PSPhone it'll have nothing to do with Sony's Swedish cousin.

Of course, nothing has been confirmed to date. Nevertheless, with Sony finally admitting that the iPhone presents a threat to its handheld market share it seems remotely possible, depending on your business intuitions, that a PSPhone will eventually arrive.

Yes, Sony has just announced a new console, the overpriced and largely underwhelming PSP Go. And yes, the only other device to be conceived as a games console with added phone functionality is the much derided and long extinct N-Gage QD. Not the most encouraging precedent to follow.

But in the handheld, as in the home console market, Sony has spent much of this generation on the ropes, outflanked at every turn by nimbler opposition. Perhaps taking the fight to Apple by throwing its brand into the phone market is its best chance of being survival into the coming rounds.

Pocket Gamer is Europe's leading source of news, opinion and reviews on mobile and handheld gaming.

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