Feb 20th, 2013

After HTC rocked our socks off yesterday with the announcement of the HTC One, Sony is looking to take the rest of this week by storm with some announcements regarding its PlayStation brand. We’re expecting some pretty big news tonight — after all, you don’t rent out the Hammerstein Ballroom and drum up this much noise for a dud. We’ll potentially be treated to an announcement regarding the next generation PlayStation console, but those of us who are interested in mobile have reason to be curious about this announcement, as well.

If you don’t remember, Sony tried to do a little cross-pollination between its gaming and phone sectors. The idea of a PlayStation phone was something that was rumored for a long time, and Sony eventually embraced the idea and ran with it. The Japanese company called it the Sony Xperia Play, but it wasn’t exactly what we were expecting.

Sure, Sony made it, it had a built-in gamepad, and it was “PlayStation Certified,” but aside from some PSOne classics and other mini titles it never fully sprouted into the must-have gaming device. Sony tried to continue the PlayStation Certified program with its line of Android tablets, but those devices didn’t exactly set the world on fire.

With Sony’s PlayStation event scheduled for later tonight, we have our eyes peeled and our curiosity piqued — will Sony look to bring us the “true” PlayStation phone we’ve all been waiting for?

Vita is Sony’s priority for mobile gaming

When the rumors of a PlayStation phone were still in infancy, folks believed it could be a worthy successor to the original PSP. The Vita hadn’t existed in our minds yet, and we figured there was a perfect opportunity to create the single most entertaining communication device one could ever wish to have. The Vita was announced, though, and the only thing it had to do with cellular were the AT&T radios sitting inside for mobile data.

Sony has gone full steam ahead with the PlayStation Vita, but the handheld hasn’t taken off like the company has hoped. Sales are down, and that’s largely due to the fact that Sony is finding a tough time getting support from third-party developers. Games are trickling in at a snail’s pace, and the odd titles we do get here and there aren’t always must-have blockbuster releases. Yours truly has sold his PlayStation Vita, and there is not much on the horizon making me want it back.

With that, it’s tough to imagine Sony would jump-start a new product category like that without a degree of hesitation. It has to find solid footing in the handheld space up against Nintendo, of course, but it’s highly unlikely the electronics giant would look to do that with a full-blown PlayStation phone. Other areas of opportunity exist, though, so let’s explore them a bit.

Gaikai could enable the perfect opportunity

Sony might still have a few tricks up its sleeve that could give it the edge it needs going further. If you haven’t heard, Sony acquired streaming game service Gaikai. Not unlike OnLive, Gaikai allows users to play games on any device as long as they have a decent broadband connection to stream them to. This means you can play console-quality games even if you don’t have great or compatible hardware. It actually works pretty well, and it’s a technological innovation that could help Sony a few different ways.

The most obvious scenario for Sony would be the ability to serve up PSOne Classics, old PS2 games, and PS3 games for those who buy the PlayStation 4. Backwards compatibility is a tricky subject in the console space, but Gaikai would give Sony the opportunity to solve that problem with relative ease since it wouldn’t have to rely on specific hardware to emulate games like it did with the Emotion chip for PS2 backwards compatibility inside the original 60GB PS3.

More than supporting older PlayStation titles on the PS4, though, Sony could finally look to deliver these games in the mobile space. A big reason the Sony Xperia Play never got as many games as we’d hoped is because much of it had to be ported to ARM architecture, and the hardware at that time — a 1GHz Snapdragon S2 processor with an Adreno 205 GPU and just 512MB of RAM — wasn’t great. This limited titles to less-demanding PSOne games and bite-sized mobile titles that you could probably find in the Play Store today.

With Gaikai, Sony’s entire range of Xperia phones and tablets could theoretically play almost any title since the fifth generation. This could kill two birds with one stone, because every phone and tablet could be a PlayStation device, and the PlayStation 4 could be backwards compatible with any generation. I don’t fully expect that to happen, but if Sony wants to bolster the Xperia line with something truly unique that no other OEM can offer it wouldn’t get any better than that.

At the very least, compete with Smart Glass and Wii U

If all else fails, we imagine Sony will at least want to match its console competitors in some areas. With the launch of the Wii U, Nintendo introduced an innovative tablet controller that allows gamers to interact in a new way. For instance, ZombiU — a game Rob has enjoyed quite extensively (read his review at Wii U Daily) — gives you a new perspective, allows you to use the controller as a manipulative tool, and can be used as a map in certain game modes.

Microsoft has plans to do something similar with SmartGlass, with its vision being the ability to enable that same sort of interactive connectivity in Xbox games. Nothing has taken off quite yet, but Microsoft originally teased scenarios like being able to call plays on your smartphone or tablet in Madden NFL as if you had an actual playbook in your hands.

Sony has shown signs of wanting to leverage similar technology with cross-platform integration between the Vita and the PlayStation 3 (and, eventually, the PlayStation 4), but why limit that to the Vita? Bring it to your Xperia smartphones and tablets, as well. Hell, bring it to all smartphones and tablets like Microsoft will eventually do.

Gone are the days where promising a superior music phone under the Walkman brand was enough to get a phone to sell like hotcakes — it’s the combination of gaming, music, and all forms of entertainment that will turn heads. It would give people more than enough reason to jump back into Sony’s mobile brand with excitement (though, to be honest, the beautiful Xperia Z is doing quite the decent job on its own merit).

What are you hoping for?

The PlayStation event kicks off in just under 4 hours — at about 6pm eastern — so it won’t be a long wait before we figure out where Sony plans to go from here. Sony has a lot riding on this announcement. Its recent financial struggles have the company on the brink of desperation mode, and we can’t imagine Sony can afford too many more blunders before President and CEO Kaz Hirai begins to sweat.

Be sure to stay tuned to GameFans.com and PS4Daily.com for coverage of all of today’s announcements, and you can bet Phandroid will be keeping an eye on things to see if Sony has anything to bless the mobile world with. Let us know what you hope Sony is getting ready to announce — aside from the obvious guess of a PlayStation 4 unveiling — in the comments below!

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