We already knew that the Vita, the next generation of Sony’s PlayStation Portable, was going on sale in Japan on December 17. And this week, at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, Sony announced that the device will go on sale on February 22, 2012, in the US, Canada, Latin America and Europe.
Leaving aside the fact that the Vita will not be available in time for the 2011 holiday season (though if you buy gifts to celebrate leap year, you’ll be in luck), the real question is whether gamers will be experiencing “handheld fatigue” by next year.
The new Vita will contain enough elements – including a touchscreen, social networking apps, and optional 3G support – to make the argument that this won’t be your older brother’s PSP, but with smartphones increasingly becoming the convenient console of choice for both gamers and developers (millions of Angry Birds fans can’t be wrong), at issue is whether the world even needs a new PSP.
Blogging for the New York Times (under the ho-hum headline “Sony Will Make Another Mobile Game Device”) Nick Bilton states the obvious: “Persuading customers to buy another gaming device, one that costs more than most smartphones [$250 for WiFi only, $50 more for 3G], is going to prove challenging to Sony.” How many people lining up for iPhones this week, even those who gorge their gigs with games, plan to drop another $250 or $300 in a few months just to play some more games? (Definitely more than the number of iPhone owners pining for a Flip camera, at least.)
Countering the assumption that the Vita’s developers must have been toiling without access to tech news since 2005, Business Insider’s Matt Lynley, quoting Sony Computer Entertainment of America CEO Jack Tretton, emphasizes Sony’s unchanged branding strategy: the PlayStation Portable is a PlayStation, portable. Lynley notes that the Vita version of Uncharted looks almost as good as the PS3 version, and Tretton is banking on the device’s superior game quality to appeal to an audience that’s already primed for addictive handheld action.
"If you have a rudimentary interest in gaming, we think we can migrate you up that scale," Tretton said. In other words, if you love playing games but have limited your amusement to smartphone apps like Angry Birds, it might be time to leave the nest.