With Apple taking an increasingly large bite of the mobile gaming space, Sony has taken out the big guns in an effort to win back market share.
The company has unveiled the Xperia Play — better known as the PlayStation Phone — at the ongoing Mobile World Congress.
Due in March, the device will be available exclusively through Verizon in the U.S. market and will lead the charge of cell phones capable of playing PlayStation titles.
Built by the company's Sony Ericsson division, the Xperia Play is powered by Google's Android operating system and will feature a four-inch touchscreen, a 5.1 megapixel camera and dedicated gaming controls that resemble the PlayStation controller.
“Today is a very proud moment for Sony Ericsson as we bring something truly revolutionary to the market," said Rikko Sakaguchi, Executive Vice President and Chief Creation Officer at Sony Ericsson.
Sonysays the phone will come with five games preloaded, including "The Sims 3" and "Tetris" and owners will initially have access to a catalog of up to 50 PlayStation titles, including Activision's (recently cancelled) "Guitar Hero," Ubisoft's "Assassin's Creed," and "Dead Space" and "Reckless Racing" from Electronic Arts.
The Xperia Play has been one of the worst kept secrets in the video game and cell phone worlds for quite some time. One tech web site even printed a hands-on preview of the device several weeks ago. Sony stopped trying to hide the news with a commercial during this year's Super Bowl, which gave the world its first official glance at the phone, but stopped short of any details.
Sony and Verizon have not yet announced a price for the phone, but it's expected to be in the same neighborhood as what Apple charges for the iPhone, supplemented by a two year contract. (Anything higher, say analysts, and the phone could be DOA when it hits stores.)
The device represents a turning point for Sony. This will be the first time the company allows its games to run on hardware made by other companies. While the Xperia Play is, of course, made by Sony, other hardware manufacturers are working on phones that will be part of the company's "PlayStation Certified" program as well.
That certification will give the phones access to the PlayStation Suite, a downloadable store of PlayStation games for Android devices that was announced in January.
While Sony and Verizon are excited about the phone's potential, analysts, so far, aren't quite so enthusiastic.
"I can't think of why anybody cares," says Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities. "It's potentially going to be too much like the nGage — too much device and not enough phone."
Pachter, who acknowledges that he has not yet seen the phone in person, adds he doesn't believe the Xperia Play will have any significant effect on Apple's strength in the mobile space — as the device's significant focus on gaming could actually work against it.
"I think the markets are different," he says. "Nobody buys the iPhone to play games. They buy it for all apps and games are just an app. People want the GPS navigation and the net search and the phone. Games are nice — and maybe they are the most downloaded apps — but I don't think that's why people buy the iPhone."
Through the Android market, of course, customers will have access to more than just games with the Xperia Play, but the device is seemingly geared towards a core gaming audience.
Regardless of whether the phone itself is successful, Sony's efforts will certainly quell Android critics, who have accused the service of having a lack of quality games.
Ultimately, the Xperia Play and PlayStation Suite of games is a way for Sony to hedge its bets as the mobile market evolves — something Nintendo is not doing. That company is relying on the novel nature of its 3DS system — which lets users play games in stereoscopic 3D without the need for special glasses — to attract customers when it goes on sale March 27 for $250.
Sony, meanwhile is not abandoning the high-end gaming handheld market, either. Less than three weeks ago, the company unveiled its next generation handheld system, currently codenamed NGP — or Next Generation Portable — which will be available this holiday season.