By Harry McCracken | Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 9:53 am
Sony’s new $250 PSP Go gaming handheld debuts today. With its slide-out control pad, it’s the first PSP that’s truly pocketable (closed, it looks and feels a little like a BlackBerry Storm). It’s also dumped the tiny UMD optical disc drive of early PSP models, making it the first digital gaming portable from Sony or anyone else. It’s got 16GB of built-in memory for games, movies, and music, plus an M2 Micro slot (yes, another proprietary Sony format) for additional storage. Simultaneous with its release, Sony is introducing PSP Minis–cheaper, simpler, more casual games not unlike much of the stuff on Apple’s App Store. In short, it’s still a PSP, but one which reflects some of the trends in pocket-sized devices set off by the iPhone and ipod Touch.
I got a little hands-on time with a PSP Go earlier this week (there it is in the photo hanging out with my iPhone). Sony has a hundred games ready for launch, but the PSP isn’t a full-blown platform for third-party apps of all sorts. Still, it’s a pretty versatile device for a handheld gaming console: It provides access to movie and music downloads and even comes with Skype preinstalled.
Even though the PSP Go makes no pretenses to be a direct competitor to the iPhone and iPod Touch, it’s impossible–for me, at least–to think about it without thinking about how it compares. It remains gaming-centric (even though almost all of Apple’s marketing for the iPod Touch plays up games, it’s really a general-purpose computing device). And its single biggest asset is probably that it has the luxury of being designed to play games well, with a full complement of traditional gamepad buttons and an analog joystick.
Apple’s a company who only grudgingly puts even a single button on its handhelds, so it’s never going to pack a device with special-purpose controls in the way Sony has done. And as good as the best games for the iPhone/Touch are, there are plenty of titles–ones as mundane as Ms. Pac-Man–for which touch is not the most satisfactory means of input.
Apple certainly sees the PSP (and Nintendo DS) as competing with the Touch: As my colleague Jared Newman pointed out, Phil Schiller spent a sizable portion of the company’s recent music-themed event snarking at Sony and Nintendo for everything from the size of their libraries to the cost of their games. On a higher level, we’re going to see a battle play out between specialized devices like the PSP Go and Swiss Army Knives like the iPod Touch. It’s going to be fun to watch–and even though the PSP Go’s improvements are all evolutionary, they help to gird Sony for the war.