Update: there are LOTS of very interesting comments in reply to this article, I highly suggest people to read the various comments under the article!
Two days ago Sony revealed the NGP, PSP’s successor. The NGP is an impressively powerful portable gaming device, that will be available at the end of the year. The device looks awesome, but after giving it some thought, I think I won’t be buying it. Here are a few reasons why:
The browser will suck
God knows I hate Apple, but going from the browsing experience on an iPhone/iPad to that of the PSP/PS3 is always extremely painful.
Hopefully the gyroscope + the touch screen will allow for a good “vertical” browsing kind of stuff. Otherwise the wide screen will mean more wasted space on the screen, because most sites won’t provide a “NGP enhanced” version of their site.
It will suck as a Media Player
The PSP and PS3 were advertised as not only gaming devices, but Media Centers. A machine on which you could play your videos and music easily. They both dramatically fail at that.
The psp: proprietary video format (UMD) with region locking, blocking “high def” videos in mp4 format to artificially increase the sales of UMD videos, no DivX/Xvid/ogg/… support, crappy mp3 player (abysmal playlist support, no “random play all my files” support, some perfectly fine mp3 files just won’t play, no freedom to organize your folders as you want, lack of “good” visualization plugins, no ogg support, etc…). In all fairness, one HUGE good point of the PSP mp3 player was that it played mp3s without the need for additional crapware such as iTunes for the iPod. No ebook reader (all smartphones have at least 10 of those now)
The Ps3: region locking, no support for PAL DVDs if you live in a country where NTSC is the norm, no support for divx/xvid/mkv (seriously? At least for the PSP there was the excuse of CPU power and Ram limitations…), region locking, no possibility to skip ads on DVDs/Blu rays, insanely crappy music player (same issues as the psp, bad playlist support, no possibility to play my library randomly, give me winamp dammit), region locking (did I mention this one already?).
Overall, Sony cripples their perfectly good hardware with attempts at pimping their proprietary formats, and their own stores. They don’t provide you with a way to enjoy your media files, but with a way to buy media from them. I expect the NGP to provide “rental, will work for 48h” types of videos. Fine, but clearly not what I want from a “media player”. The offer will be limited to whatever contracts Sony is able to sign, and usually for me as a foreigner in Japan, this will mean I’ll have to deal with a massive amount of pain to get my French or American movies to work.
The NGP probably won’t have a convenient TV output, unless you pay for some super expensive hardware accessory that won’t even give you HD.
It will be expensive.
Sure, we’re all excited now, as this is clearly the most powerful portable device we’ve ever heard of. Except, it will be released in 10 months. In 10 months, will we accept to pay the same price as a smartphone for something that does less?Will you pay a 3G subscription for something that’s not a phone? Technically, the NGP will compete against the 3DS (which will be way cheaper and will have a larger library of games by the end of 2011), tablets (that will handle medias – ebooks, movies, music – way better), and smartphones (on which the GPS allows you to find where you are and where you want to go, rather than what games are being played in Shibuya…).
By the end of 2011, it will be easy to find a 3DS for 200$. Smartphones can go up to 600$ but the price go down when you take a carrier subscriptions. I believe that by the end of 2011, some tablets will have most of the technical specs of the PSP, for a similar price, and less crapware. Sony officials said the NGP would be sold at an “affordable price that’s appropriate for the handheld gaming space”, and my current guess is that it will be more than 400$.
The games will not be as good as you expect, because your expectations will change in 10 months.
Is that me, or does playing a high quality graphics hardcore game make no sense on a 5 inch screen? I’d rather play an awesome game on the PS3(PS4?), in my couch, on my 40 inches TV, than the same game in direct sunlight, in a crowded train, on a 5 inches screen. In general, People who play action games in public areas are disturbing other people, and not even playing in good conditions. Portable gaming for hardcore games is an ersatz of the “real thing”, and I’m sure that if it weren’t for “exclusive” content, people would rather play in good conditions on a big screen with better graphics. My point is that as soon as the NGP is released, the PS4, or the XBOX 3, or whatever, will put its graphics to shame, and our feeling of the NGP will be the same as it was for the PSP: it looks good, but it’s only a portable device after all.
Its hardware will be under-used
How many games will be using the back touchpad? Are you ready to pay for a 3G subscription that doesn’t give you a phone? Are you ready to give up on skype just because Sony doesn’t want to piss Docomo off? Do you want your GPS to give you a map of popular games in Shibuya, rather than the route for your train commutation or the closest restaurants in the area? Are you ready to get a modern computer that cannot open a text file because it doesn’t make sense from a business point of view?
And guess what? Sony will have an army of DRMs and lawyers to make sure that people who try to make actual use of the hardware will get into trouble.
The 3DS will be cheaper and have a larger library of games
By the end of 2011, you’ll find a 3DS for 200$, and it will have much more games. If you’re lucky, the NGP will cost 400$ at that time.
As I re-read this article, I surely sound a bit bitter. Sony isn’t doing anything different than the PSP or the PS3, so why would I complain? Well here’s the thing. The PSP was my first gaming console ever. (I had an atari 2600 but that barely counts, does it?). I come from a PC background, where it makes perfect sense to be able to code your own scripts, batch files, organize your games the way you want, look at the inside of the OS, interact with it, download an play with freeware or indie games… The limitations and crapware one can find on the PSP and the PS3 really pissed me off over time (I bought the PS3 because it was advertised as a great Media device, which it is not!). The fact that Sony retaliates on people who are trying to enhance the experience (by bypassing the software limitations added on top of perfectly good hardware) pisses me off even more. They convince you you are buying powerful hardware, while you are actually renting it, and can only use 10% of it. In that kind of “ball and chain” scheme, thank you, but Apple does it better. And god knows I hate Apple.
Sony brings a massive hardcore-gamers oriented device. Making a good game for the NGP will be costy, so these games will be expensive. Nintendo brings a simple machine with a killer feature (the 3D), and always the same games that are cheap to develop and fun to play with. History repeats itself. Just like the PSP versus the NDS, the NGP will have smaller shares, will get less and less devs interest (for pure development cost VS benefits reasons), and I don’t see how the awesome hardware or the “social network” features will help with that…
Then again, I’m not an analyst, and I’m famous for making very bad hardware purchase decisions