E3, the world’s biggest games expo, is underway in Los Angeles. While most Brits were sipping on Jubilee Pimm’s and coronation chicken sandwiches over the Bank Holiday, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo were all busy announcing their new games, services and hardware in front of the world’s press.

Although actually, watching them all, you’d be forgiven for thinking Sony and Microsoft weren’t simply using the show as an excuse to telegraph each others’ wishes to hold off on the next generation of hardware for as long as possible. Indeed, it’s telling that, a few new games aside, Sony’s most significant announcement was the arrival of the PlayStation brand on HTC phones. Is it too little too late?

While Sony wowed the audience with sneak peeks at games like Beyond: Two Souls (from the studio behind Heavy Rain) and The Last Of Us, its brief mention that HTC would be bringing PlayStation-certified phones to market may well be the most important thing to come out of Sony’s E3.

The PS Vita handheld hasn’t been a huge success – the newly-announced cross-play with the PS3 is nice but not groundbreaking. And Sony’s new Harry Potter game and accessory for the PlayStation Move, Wonderbook, will find only a limited audience.

Can Sony save HTC with a PlayStation phone to call its own?

But more than one PlayStation phone? That’s a big deal. Although details are not yet clear, it appears Sony will be bringing its PlayStation Mobile suite to HTC phones, including the current 2012 line up of the HTC One X, One S and One V, as well as presumably more in the pipeline.

PlayStation Mobile is already in open beta for developers, but now these devs have a greatly expanded potential audience – HTC is one of just three smartphone manufacturers actually turning a profit right now. It’s a big deal, and it’s one that could make PlayStation-certification a must have for all new Android phones. Could.

But Sony’s late to the party. Microsoft made it clear years ago that an Xbox handheld was a Windows Phone, and has made steady progress on that front, releasing several solid apps that integrate its mobiles with its console – including the newly announced Smart Glass app, which adopts the second screen approach for video popularised by the likes of Zeebox.

It’s taken Sony until mid-2012 to reach the stage where it’s clearly communicating its mobile plans, even though the PlayStation Suite, as it was first called, was first announced way back in 2010. But its attempts at mobile go back much further…

A history of failure

We’ve seen phones touted as the ‘PlayStation Phone’ come and go, but throughout there’s never been a coherent gameplan. Remember the Sony Ericsson Aino, with Remote Play? And then there was the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play.

Ah, the Play. So much potential, so few PlayStation One games Sony bothered to port to Android 4.0 for it. Where was Final Fantasy VII, Tekken 3 and Metal Gear Solid? All Xperia Play gamers were left with was Crash Bandicoot (Not nearly as fun as you remember it being), and Cool Boarders 2.

The HTC partnership will only rub salt in the wound of bitter Xperia Play owners: only last month, Sony Mobile announced that it would not be upgrading the only smartphone with a PlayStation gamepad layout to Android 4.0, effectively removing it from all future plans for PlayStation on mobile.

PlayStation Phone: How to make your own

But things move quickly in mobile: soon, these customers will be coming to the end of their contracts once more. That means there’s still time for Sony to right its wrongs on mobile.

So the question is, are HTC PlayStation phones too little too late? Maybe not. After all, the more phones Sony is on, the closer it gets to critical mass and the more potential PlayStation 4 customers it can grab when the time comes, using mobile integration as a selling point.

But if Sony is to make good on its promise this time round, we’re going to need to blown away by PlayStation mobile content when it emerges later this year. We need a new Angry Birds with buttons, a sensation on that level, and we need it soon. I hope HTC holds Sony to task, because this is the biggest news to come out of Sony’s E3 2012 by far.

  • James

    ….. and cosying up to HTC will help with the much-speculated OnLive deal that may be in the works. 
    Sony and HTC phones hooking into your “Playstation-OnLive” account sounds like a reasonable selling point differentiator to claw back some smartphone market share from Apple and Samsung.
    Still needs to be a decent peripheral that the phones connect to (physically or using bt4)
    as a controller….. hell, even a gorrilla pod type extension  to screw into the phone would probably do!

    • http://twitter.com/jmcomms Jonathan Morris

      Yeah, if Sony does buy OnLive then it could very well change everything. As is stands, the Playstation Suite/Mobile app offering is really not exciting at all. Sony has done pretty much sod all with it since releasing the PLAY. A far better gaming experience can be had with an Xperia S hooked up to a TV running OnLive and a PS3 controller connected via microUSB (using an On-the-Go adapter).

  • http://twitter.com/jmcomms Jonathan Morris

    What’s confusing is that Sony argued that it couldn’t reliably upgrade the Play to ICS (and it did try, as many people had downloaded the beta release which seemed to work as well as any other 2011 Xperia phone with 4.0.x) and the reason given was the changes in ICS on how gamepads/controllers are managed – hence it becoming the only device not being upgraded from last year. There were serious issues requiring developers to fix existing Xperia PLAY optimised games so they would continue to work – and Sony must have felt it would cause problems to owners finding games they’d purchased no longer worked after doing the update. However, the confusion is over the ordinary Android games designed to work with the gamepad, not the old Playstation games that – let’s be frank – few people will want to pay around £5 for. There are far better unofficial emulators out there too, for anyone desperate to play old games and realise how bad they look on a small screen with a far higher resolution!

  • http://www.facebook.com/k34n0 Daniel Keane

    I’d really like to see another Playstation phone with a gamepad, not just software. I would’ve bought the Xperia Play but the spec was very similar to the Galaxy S that I must’ve had for about a year by then, so didn’t think it was worth the upgrade.

Hot chat, right here!

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