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Phone Home

Marrying a PlayStation with a Phone has never made more sense - but remains a tough proposition

There is a fairly popular line of gossip within the games business which suggests that the relationship between Sony Computer Entertainment and Sony Ericsson is not entirely a happy one. It's nothing but rumour, of course, and is rarely substantiated by any practical examples of this allegedly frosty relationship, but proponents of the theory do have one piece of evidence to fall back upon. If, they argue, the two divisions are truly seeing eye to eye, where on earth is the PSP Phone?

In this regard, the conspiracy theorists who suggest a rift within Sony have a point. The PSP technology has been linked to various mobile phone implementations over the years, but none have ever surfaced as actual products. It's a very obvious link-up, especially in the wake of Sony's creation of a digital distribution service for the platform. The very fact of its non-appearance does tend to imply that something is amiss.

To fall back again on industry scuttlebutt, it's widely held that the "something amiss" is that Sony Computer Entertainment has never been satisfied with the hardware Sony Ericsson has delivered - never content that the devices being designed lived up to the PlayStation branding.

That makes this week's leak of some pretty credible shots of a prototype PSP Phone extremely interesting. Interesting with a pinch of salt, of course - there remains every possibility that the device won't see the light of day, or will lose its PSP branding and distinctive button symbols along the way and become simply a game-focused Android handset without a whiff of PlayStation around it.

However, this is undoubtedly spiritually closer to a true PSP Phone than anything we've seen thus far - and that tends to imply that Sony is taking the concept more seriously than ever before. What that means internally is hard to judge exactly, but we can make some educated guesses about the barriers that have fallen - or are in the process of falling - to make this possible.

Firstly, there's the simple fact that Sony Computer Entertainment is no longer ruled with an iron fist by its engineers. The firm's executives happily acknowledge this cultural shift, which has brought sweeping changes to the firm in waves since the departure of Ken Kutaragi. One inevitable consequence is that opposition to hardware invented outside SCE is likely to have lost the power of veto it would once have held. As an engineering-led division, SCE would have hated the idea of a Sony Ericsson developed platform carrying the PlayStation brand. As a software-led division, it can probably see the clear advantages of letting mobile phone engineers design mobile phones.

Secondly, there's Apple. I talk a lot about Apple in these columns, but not without good reason - the reality is that everyone in the portable gaming market is pretty obsessed with Apple, either as a massive new opportunity or, in the case of commercial rivals, as a terrifying new giant in the playground.

That applies to Sony more than most. Sony's battle with Apple extends across several markets, while in others the two maintain a slightly uncomfortable partnership. Sony Computer Entertainment has watched as Apple unpicked years of Sony dominance in the portable music player space, eroded a commanding position in the high-end laptop space, smashed Sony Ericsson's burgeoning high-end smartphone devices, and forced a new set of market conditions upon the firm's music and movie divisions. Now it's watching Apple stroll confidently into the gaming space, and it knows it has a battle on its hands.

If anything was ever going to get SCE building bridges to other parts of the company and learning the value of co-operation, it was this threat. In fact, it's not fair to single out SCE - the external threat of Apple is undoubtedly a powerful gelling factor for all of Sony's disparate divisions, many of which have been notably poor at co-operating with one another's initiatives in the past.

Thus, it's not hard to see how the marriage of PlayStation and phone could finally be on the way. The stars have aligned, if not technologically then certainly competitively - the ability to roll out PSP software on a phone handset is simply a competitive advantage that Sony must be considering seriously.

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Rob Fahey avatar

Rob Fahey

Contributing Editor

Rob Fahey is a former editor of GamesIndustry.biz who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.