There's no doubt about it – Sony's NGP, or Next Generation Portable, is an awesome slice of gaming tech. Its raw power makes today's smartphones look like Tamagotchis, and it somehow still manages a five-hour battery life. But despite those space age specs, the NGP is destined for cult affection rather than mainstream success.
For a start, you won't be able to get your thumbs on its analogue sticks until the end of 2011. In tech terms, that's roughly eight thousand light years away. By then, we'll (most likely) have an iPhone 5, a slew of mature Android Honeycomb phones and tablets, and a six-month old Nintendo 3DS in our gadget manbags. Only the PlayStation hardcore will be prepared to wait.
The tech world is also unrecognisable from the one Sony's original PSP sashayed into back in 2004. Back then, portable gaming was only possible on two other devices (unless you count playing Snake on a Nokia 3220). Today, Apple's pesky iOS devices and Android Market have sewn up the casual gaming scene with their 59p Angry Birds and the database porn of Football Manager Handheld 2011.
Putting what is effectively a PS3 in our pockets is an amazing achievement, but is it what today’s gamers really want? Portable games are mostly for filling those throwaway pockets of time during the day – on the bus, or when your arm's trapped under a boulder. The possibilities for the NGP version of Metal Gear Solid are endless, but they're mostly too complex for me to enjoy outside the house, where PS3s live.
Recognising that the NGP is too powerful and (most likely) too expensive for casual gamers, Sony has announced the PlayStation Suite for Android phones. The plan is for this to be a taster for the 'full' handheld PlayStation experience on the NGP. But only a fraction of gamers will have the appetite for the five-course banquet the NGP offers.
As always, ninja-like Nintendo has ghosted away from those aggressive smartphones with a portable slab of ingenuity called the 3DS. We've yet to see a fully working sample in action, but Nintendo's track record of producing games that are as innovative as they are horribly addictive suggests it could yet persuade the casual crowd to part with upwards of £230 for a separate gaming device.
And the Sony NGP? According to SCEE big cheese Andrew House it will be 'affordable for the handheld gaming space'. The trouble is, those Pacman-like smartphones have eaten up most of that handheld gaming space. And even a supercharged, highly covetable new PSP might not be enough to convince gamers that 'unvergence' is the future.