Sony PlayStation Vita to Take on Smartphones

Sony PlayStation Vita to Take on Smartphones

Sony recently unveiled its latest portable gaming device, the PlayStation Vita, underscoring its hope and belief that handheld gaming devices can sell well even with the popularity of smartphones as a mobile gaming platform.

The Tokyo-based company believes there is still a market for dedicated handheld gaming devices, and its PlayStation Vita will be a strong seller within in a short time. The device is expected to launch later this year in Japan, and worldwide in 2012, and will retail for $250 for the Wi-Fi-only model, and $300 for a 3G version running on AT&T.

“If we were able to hit that 70 million mark for PlayStation Portable, we want to exceed that both in terms of numbers and timing to get to that number,” said Kazuo Hirai, Sony president.

The Vita offers gamers high-definition graphics, two cameras and two touch screens, including one on the rear of the device. The device will also offer Crossplay, allowing users on the Vita to play and interact with players on the PlayStation 3.

The Vita is the entertainment giant’s gauntlet against the mounting challenge from smartphones, which have emerged as a powerful force in mobile gaming. Recently, mobile gaming has shifted away from dedicated gaming devices like those from Nintendo and Sony, and towards smartphones like the iPhone and Google’s Android devices.

Last month, the Guinness World Records named the iPhone 4 the fastest selling gaming device in history. It sold 1.5 million units the day it launched on June 24, 2010. In comparison, Sony’s PSP managed to sell 200,000 units its first day, while Nintendo needed nine days to move 500,000 DS handheld devices in 2004.

Another factor cited for this trend is the astounding volume of games offered by app marketplaces, with many titles being free or hovering around $1, compared to $30 to $50 price tags for traditional gaming consoles. The shift has game companies worried.

“I fear our business is dividing in a way that threatens the continued employment of those of us who make games,” said Satoru Iwata, Nintendo president, lamenting the trend of customers moving away from purely gaming devices toward multi-purpose smartphones.

Sony, though, believes the mobile gaming market still has a place even with the rise of the smartphone as a viable gaming platform.

“We see an absolute market for handheld gaming,” said John Koller, director of hardware marketing for Sony Computer Entertainment America, to the Seattle Times. “There are deeper, richer experiences that are only possible on something like a Playstation Vita.”

“We spend 80 percent of our time outside the home,” he continued. “We need to make sure the portable portion of our strategy is significant. Being able to connect with the [PlayStation 3] through Vita allows us to have the entire ecosystem in play at any given time.”

With gaming handheld sales suffering, its profits plunging and Sony’s public reputation taking a beating in a series of high-profile data breaches, much is riding on the Vita for the company. Sony’s read on the public desire for a dedicated handheld may pull it through, or it may just be the next obstacle in an increasingly bumpy course for the company.

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