Sony just made an interesting and potentially very revealing comment which suggests that the company is planning to release a new portable PlayStation, perhaps alongside the upcoming PS5.
This story has been updated with insight from editors at GamesRadar+, Kotaku UK and TechRadar. Read on to see what they told us.
On April 27 Sony Corporation released its FY2017 financial results (opens in new tab) and, while overall these were good, in terms of its smartphone business, numbers were disappointingly poor. So poor in fact that Sony felt it needed to explain why it is staying in the phone business at all. The reason supplied by Sony? 5G technology.
Here's the report's key quote:
"By enabling high-speed communication, low-latency and simultaneous connectivity, 5G, which is expected to be commercialized in the near future, is a technology which we view as having immense potential, since it can connect all portable devices to the cloud. In order to fully utilize this leading-edge technology, we need to retain in-house our fundamental research capability and capability to create related applications. By continuing to work on 5G in our smartphone business, we are aiming to develop 5G technology as a competency that can be used across the Sony Group."
So Sony is staying in the smartphone business "to develop 5G technology as a competency that can be used across the Sony Group.”
Now, if you look across the Sony Group, at its divisions and technology markets, the most obvious and – considering the Nintendo Switch's insane popularity – potentially profitable area for 5G technology is in portable gaming, specifically portable gaming streamed from the cloud.
Sony made a big mistake with the PS Vita in the sense that it spent big on stuffing it with, for the time, powerful internal hardware, and jacked it up with high-level features like PlayStation 4 Remote Play, which allowed owners to stream games from their PS4 over Wi-Fi directly to their handheld. But it didn't back it up with the varied and stable gaming ecosystem necessary for it to flourish.
A new 5G-enabled PSP handheld console wouldn't have this problem as it would naturally sync with Sony's well-developed and growing PS Now streaming service of games, which sits perfectly in line with the streaming-heavy future of gaming in general, and would position the company perfectly to win big in the future console war.
A 5G PSP wouldn't be restricted by things like its graphics processor (GPU) and, thanks to its lighting fast and stable 5G connection, would allow gamers to play the best Sony PlayStation titles such as God of War, Detroit: Become Human, and Horizon Zero Dawn, as well as the most graphically demanding cross-platform new games like Red Dead Redemption 2, too, with each title streamed directly from the cloud.
As T3 has reported over the past few years, both at the Tokyo Game Show and at E3, the current Xbox One X versus PS4 Pro-style internal hardware war each console generation seems to be becoming less relevant, with both Microsoft and Sony investing heavily in streaming technology and services (just look at last year's big play by Microsoft with its Xbox Game Pass subscription service) to help them transition seamlessly into a cloud-based future gaming landscape.
When you partner this with the insanely positive reaction by gamers to the portable Nintendo Switch console, which shows full-fat portable gaming experiences are very, very much in demand, it leads to the obvious conclusion that a new 5G-equipped PSP, a console that in its original incarnation was both much-loved and financially successful, is a very real possibility that could be realised far sooner than anyone thinks.
A reborn PlayStation Portable. What do GamesRadar+, Kotaku UK and TechRadar think?
T3 is published by Future Publishing, which also publishes GamesRadar+, Kotaku UK and TechRadar, so we wandered over to their respective desks to get their take on the matter.
First we spoke to Dan Dawkins, Global Editor-in-Chief of GamesRadar+, to get his view. Here's what he had to say:
"What Sony can't do is make another PSP / PS Vita – perfectly good, slightly-underpowered, handhelds that ran almost-but-not-quite versions of equivalent PS3 and PS4 games (God of War: Ghost of Sparta, anyone?). Nintendo has redefined expectations. The console is the portable. No one is going to tolerate compromised ports, bespoke file formats or unique UIs. Ah, the joys of PS Vita's bubble menus.
"So, Sony either creates a portable that basically is a PS5, down to the last chip (which seems highly unlikely given the latest PS5 rumours about AMD Navi graphics technology, and its relative cost/scalability), or – far more plausibly – creates a form of 'mirror portal' device that runs entirely on the cloud, with seamless PlayStation Now integration (or the PS5 equivalent).
"It sounds absurd, but Blade's Shadow Box is trying to do something similar, allowing you to access the cloud-based equivalent of a £1,500 PC for a £30-ish a month subscription fee.
"All said, I've heard nothing about Sony working on a handheld – and I've definitely heard PS5 chatter. Sony will clearly be watching Nintendo Switch's success and mulling a response, but let's hope it's in line with PS4's pragmatic vision, rather than previous Nintendo-aping follies, like the motion-controlled DualShock controllers rushed out to compete with Nintendo Wii-motes / nunchucks."
Then we spoke to Richard Stanton at Kotaku UK, who said:
"Sony got burned by Vita, and in particular by the 3G model – which allowed you to download and play on the go, but required its own data plan. The company's support for Vita has now dried up, and then-CEO Andrew House said last year that there wasn't 'a huge market opportunity' for handheld gaming consoles anymore. So I'd be surprised to see Sony looking at portables again so soon.
"With that said, no one in the industry can ignore the success of Switch and what it says about gaming habits. Players increasingly value convenience, whether that means taking it on the bus or being able to play when someone else is using the main telly. Vita actually does some of this – the remote play feature is great for playing PS4 in bed. And we also have to remember Sony's huge investment in PS Now, a huge library of Playstation games that can be streamed, a technology that still has minor issues (mainly latency) but basically works.
"So in terms of giving players access to PlayStation games on the move, Sony's got a lot of backend infrastructure ready to go. My big question would be whether the company would look to do this through dedicated hardware (House's words suggest not) or through software and accessories that work with popular phones and tablets.
"Many would like to see a new Vita. I'm sceptical but I wouldn't rule it out, for the simple reason that Sony has shown itself willing to take a punt on commercially risky technologies – most recently PSVR – and the Switch has shown the enduring value of bespoke hardware (when you get it right). The only thing I'm certain of is that, if Sony does produce any kind of portable hardware in the future, it won't have its own distinct portable ecosystem, but be another way of accessing your Playstation library."
And finally, we caught up with Gerald Lynch over on TechRadar, who reckons that a new handheld could be an attractive avenue for Sony to pursue:
"It's easy to forget just how successful the original PSP was – it sold 82 million units, making it the 9th most successful console of all time. So, though Nintendo may be held up as the most prolific of handheld game makers, Sony has a pedigree here, too.
"However, it will have been burnt by the relative failure of the PS Vita, which managed a mere 15 million sales. But it was quite a different time for the industry – gamers were becoming enamoured with smartphones and their gaming apps for the first time, and the PS Vita seemed an expensive luxury against the flexibility of a smartphone.
Today things have shifted in favour again of the dedicated handheld console – smartphones are pretty much a commodity, and the Nintendo Switch has proven that, with an inventive design, there's still love out there for a focussed handheld gaming device. With the PS4 now maturing, a new hardware avenue for Sony may seem attractive, too."
Now we just have to wait to see where Sony does use 5G. If its plans don't include a new PSP, 5G tech could also be heading to the company's cameras and laptops, but it's the prospect of a 5G PSP that excites us the most.