Sony’s long-rumored PlayStation Portable smartphone is set to be launched in North America and Europe as early as the spring, according to a Japanese newspaper report yesterday.
The device would likely be based on Sony’s handheld PSP Go game console, would be made by Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications and run Google’s Android operating system, said the Asahi Shimbun’s English edition, citing unnamed sources.
Sony hopes to take on Apple’s iPhone, Research in Motion’s BlackBerry and Nokia devices by offering the first smartphone that is based on a portable game console, with a set of controls that allows very advanced gaming.
The PSP Go, launched in November last year, already features software downloads through a wireless connection, allowing players to also browse the Internet, watch movies, play music and read books and comics.
The new PlayStation handset would similarly work with Sony’s online media platform, the company’s answer to Apple’s iTunes.
Sony hopes the phone will stimulate sales in the sluggish videogame console market, the Asahi Shimbun said.
Sony called the newspaper report “speculation” and declined to comment.
North American sales of video game hardware, software and accessories are expected to reach US$20.9 billion for this year by the time all sales are totaled after the holidays. That figure is down 4 percent from last year, according to Jesse Divnich, vice president of Electronic Entertainment Design and Research.
Yet, despite the economic slump that continues to impact gamers’ disposable income, industry players expect next year to bring a wave of new revenue from items such as downloadable content, mobile games and in-game micro-transactions.
Adding the new sources of -revenue, Arvind Bhatia, senior research analyst at Sterne Agee, sees US and European game sales up 5 percent for this year and another 5 percent for next year.
At next month’s giant International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, companies such as Samsung and Verizon will unveil new smartphones and tablet devices to extend the reach of games to more consumers.
Michael Cai, the head of video game research at Interpret, said over half of tablet owners today (52 percent) are playing games on their devices.
Gaming is the second most popular activity on iPads and other tablets, behind only surfing the Web.
“I think one of the big trends of 2011 is cross-platform gameplay, that is, game experiences that are continuous across -mobile, -television, PC, social media, console and interactive toys,” said Jesse Schell, assistant professor of entertainment technology at Carnegie Mellon University.
“As these technologies get more and more ingrained in our lives, game experiences across them will become more connected and more continuous,” he added
At CES, which runs from Jan. 6 to Jan. 9, Sony will showcase stereoscopic 3D games like MLB 11: The Show, Killzone 3D and Motorstorm: Apocalypse. Nintendo will promote its Nintendo 3DS autostereoscopic (glasses-free 3D) portable device, which will launch on Feb. 26 in Japan and in other territories shortly thereafter.
Sony and Microsoft jumped into the motion controlled game this fall with PlayStation Move and Kinect for Xbox 360, and both are selling strongly and helping the bottom line for the game industry late this year.