Why I Was Wrong About the PSP2...And Why I Don't Care

If you'd have asked me a year ago if I would buy a new PlayStation Portable from Sony that wasn't a phone, I'd have scoffed. So why am I desperate for the NGP—the PSP2?

Nintendo and Sony are in a pickle. While they've both been milking their portable gaming lines over the last three years, Apple swooped in and changed the gaming market considerably, with a touchscreen-based iOS platform that has put thousands of games on the market at prices low enough to cause a gaming industry executive many sleepless nights.

Add to that the excellent web browsing, media playback, and the otherwise jack-of-all-tradeness of iOS devices and it would seem silly for Sony and Nintendo to ignore the immediate need to co-opt iOS's best qualities: one-stop digital downloads at a central marketplace, at a minimum.

Two years ago I even went so far as to suggest that Sony's next PSP should simply be an iPhone with a nice dual-analog gamepads. Interestingly, all the bullet-point requirements I suggested for the PSP2 then—GPS, cameras, touchscreens, accelerometers and compass, 3G, flash-memory based—are in the NGP/PSP2. I just had the form factor wrong.

And I'm glad Sony didn't listen to me, because I think the PSP2 might be built perfectly for what it is meant to be: a portable gaming powerhouse.

Dual-analog control nubs. All the sensors and cameras and touchscreens. A by-all-reports gorgeous, high-resolution OLED screen. The PSP2 is going to be as close as we've ever seen to having a full-on console experience on the go.

It's clear Sony sat down and said, "We can make the PSP2 a killer all-in-one device or a killer gaming device, but not both." Two or three years ago when they were probably first sitting down to put together early designs, I wouldn't be surprised if they made some prototypes that were much more iPhone-like. And if the leaked "PSP Phone" prototypes are any indication, I bet they realized they were sort of awful.

(I still think Sony could make a wonderful PSP Phone, but not until they finally put a bullet in the Sony Ericsson experiment. Maybe next generation.)

So instead Sony is going to launch a beast of a handheld device that will be able to do all sorts of things we expect a modern device to do—browse the web, play movies, etc.—but will be first and foremost a gaming device. The PSP2 won't need to fit in your pocket because it's not trying to replace your phone. It's not even exactly trying to replace your iPad. It's simply trying to become the best portable gaming system on the planet. And if initial reports of the Nintendo 3DS's three-dimensional screen and its attendant headaches are true, Sony may actually have a shot of becoming the market leader over Nintendo.

Now there are plenty of cards yet to be played. Sony could hurt initial uptake of the PSP2 if they decide to charge too much. (Anything over $300, probably.) But if they can get it near the 3DS's $250 launch price, there's a good chance that in a side-by-side comparison Nintendo's unit will look anemic or simply gimmicky. Nintendo has strong software, traditionally, especially in handheld. Sony's portable software—especially first-party titles—has struggled at times.

Plus Apple will most likely continue to do tremendous unit sales, revenue, and software sales on iOS, so even if Sony can get on top of Nintendo in this generation of handheld gaming devices, Apple and its App Store partners may make more actual, you know, money.

Nevertheless, there's something about seeing the PSP2 in corporeal form that makes it make sense in a way a list of rumored or wished-for specs do not. Even the rear touchpad seems sort of intriguing!

Sony isn't giving up on the dedicated, dare I say hardcore portable gaming market. And for as much as I like my iPhone and its games, something in my gut tells me that I'll be buying a Sony PSP2—and I might not be alone.