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If you have been wishing your cell phone could offer more elaborate games than Angry Birds and Tetris, you may be interested in Sony Ericsson's soon-to-be-released Xperia Play smartphone. Officially announced at the Mobile World Congress 2011 in Barcelona, Spain, the Android-powered Xperia Play will launch sometime this spring.
The specs of the Xperia Play include a 4-inch multi-touch screen generating 854 x 480 pixel resolution, 1GHz Scorpion ARMv7 processor, 5.1MP camera with auto-focus and LED flash, video record capability, memory card support up to 32GB (8GB card ships with phone), and a spacious control pad arrangement that offers much for developers to exploit.
Specifically, the Xperia Play is a horizontal slider that presents a large, circular directional pad on the far left, a second D-pad on the far right offering the familiar Playstation shoulder buttons (the kind you would find on a Playstation 3 controller), and a large, oval multi-touch pad in the middle. Users will be able to download games through the Sony Marketplace.
Sony execs are betting that there is a market comprised of folks who want a powerful smartphone that can also provide a robust mobile gaming experience that approximates the Playstation franchise, albeit on a smaller scale. They are further betting that users will be willing to spend up to $8.00 per game.
However, there is some risk that developers will simply port over existing games, rather than build from scratch to meet the unique specifications of the Xperia Play.
But something else concerns me here. When I heard about the Xperia Play release, I immediately thought of Nokia's expensive and ultimately unsuccessful N-Gage phone, which promised a similar product and experience for its time, complete with a proprietary marketplace for games and an impressive marketing campaign which was unable, in the end, to reach sales and become profitable.
While Sony Ericsson's attempt seems more polished both in product design and game library resources, I am still concerned that a hybrid portable gaming system/cell phone is a product without a decisive market.
To put it another way, do kids who want to play Crash Bandicoot on a portable gaming system also need a powerful smartphone? Or, to flip it, do adults who need the features of their smartphone really want to sacrifice precious real estate for gaming features/functions?
I think not. While I applaud Sony Ericsson for thinking outside the box and taking risks, I think I've seen this before, and it ended badly. Not for lack of quality product as much as trying to merge two fundamentally different devices into one, and ending up with a need for neither.