updated 01:15 pm EST, Thu March 4, 2010
Sony aiming at iPhone, iPad with two devices
A potentially landscape-altering leak today suggests Sony is developing two handhelds that will directly target Apple. The leader would be a smartphone built in tandem with Sony Ericsson that could run PlayStation games, presumably PSP games as hinted by Sony last month; it would compete against the game-friendly iPhone. A second described by the WSJ would be a crossover between the PSP, an e-book reader and a netbook and would be aimed at multi-role devices like the iPad, albeit not necessarily a tablet.
Reflecting the amount of devotion to the project, Sony is reportedly contributing significantly more effort to the PlayStation phone than it does for most Sony Ericsson projects. In either case, the sources reiterate Sony's recently publicized admission that the PSP Go has struggled and that any future handheld devices would take a more considerate approach to devices with download-only content.
The two would tie into an online media service due to go live this month but themselves wouldn't be ready until sometime later in 2010.
Sony has often resisted developing non-traditional PlayStation devices as it has often considered the brand too valuable and has either wanted more control or else hindered by its well-known tendency towards isolated groups, where one division's work may not be shared with another and in some cases has competed directly against it.
However, the company is widely known to have been bruised by Apple's presence in the handheld arena. While the PSP has regularly been outsold by the cheaper Nintendo DS line, the iPhone and iPod touch have only compounded the problems as they circumvent many of the drawbacks of traditional portable consoles. Users of Apple devices have access to the entire iPhone game catalog online and often pay just $10 or less for a full game. PSP games, meanwhile, are still mostly dominated by sales of physical UMD copies and in any form usually cost $30 to $40; an iPod touch is often less expensive in practice even when the base price is slightly higher, at $199 versus $179. The PSP Go at $250 has sold poorly even compared to the main PSP line.
Sony has also had a hard time competing in multi-function devices and most notably flopped with Milo, a communicator that neither had phone features nor gaming. Sony has publicly expressed interest in a tablet to challenge the iPad but until this year had no immediate rival, as most features are scattered across different categories. Its Reader e-book devices have been relatively but, at one million sold to date, have trailed significantly behind the Amazon Kindle's three million.