Sony Unveils PSPgo, New Prices on Development Hardware

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Sony Computer Entertainment on Tuesday made several announcements during its press conference at the E3 gaming convention in Los Angeles, but none seemed more relevant to iPhone and iPod touch game developers and industry watchers than the introduction of a new mobile system called the PSPgo, and news that Sony was dropping the price of PSP development systems.

The long-rumored PSPgo is a new PlayStation Portable system with a smaller form factor, designed especially for users who are content to download games and videos. It's planned for an October release in North America, Europe and Asia for US$249.

While the price for the PSPgo seems steep compared to a PSP-3000, which retails for $170, It's certainly competitive with the iPod touch, which costs $229 for an 8GB model or $299 for the more comparable 16GB model. And the PSPgo emphasizes the "portable" in PlayStation Portable thanks to a neat design that's lifted from some smartphones and Sony's own Mylo Internet communicator.

The PSPgo measures 5.04 x 0.65 x 2.72 inches (128 x 16.5 x 69 mm) and weighs 5.6 ounces (158g). It retains a 16:9 aspect ratio display that measures 3.8 inches and 480 x 272 pixels, like other PSP models). Compare that to the 6.7 x 0.7 x 2.7 inch dimensions of the PSP-3000 and you can see where Sony made the cuts -- the PSPgo is easier to stick in a pocket and lighter, besides. It's worth noting, however, that the PSPgo's display isn't a touchscreen, like the iPhone and iPod touch.

The 3.8-inch TFT display slides upward to reveal control surfaces, just like a smartphone. Only instead of a QWERTY keyboard you'll find a directional pad, specialized buttons, a small analog thumbstick, start and select buttons -- the same interface you find on the full-sized PSP-3000 that Sony will continue to sell even after the PSPgo's release.

That's not the only reason the PSPgo is smaller, however. Sony has also removed the Universal Media Disc (UMD) optical drive from the PSPgo, emphasizing the unit's suitability for digital entertainment content transferred from the PlayStation 3 or directly over the PlayStation Network, an online service Sony has created for PS3 and PSP users, which offers video content and games for download.

This puts the PSPgo squarely in the same territory as the iPhone and iPod touch as a game-playing system, at least as far as downloads are concerned. No more UMD disks to lose; simply download your games from PSN and take them with you on the go. Sony promises loads more downloadable games from the PlayStation Network in time for the PSPgo's release.

The PSPgo features built-in 802.11b Wi-Fi and support for Bluetooth 2.0 wireless peripherals, including headphones, headsets and PS3 wireless controllers. The PSPgo can also be attached to a television or home entertainment system so you can watch videos stored in the unit. The PSPgo includes 16GB of built-in flash memory, along with a Memory Stick Micro flash storage card slot that can be used to further expand the unit's storage capacity.

Sony lowers barrier to PSP Development, again

With Sony developing a PSP that won't use UMD discs, the company is more interested than ever to bring on more development talent to make games for its handheld systems. To that end, the company has dropped the price of Development Tool PSP models to $1500 each.

That's certainly a far cry from the low cost of entry for iPhone and iPod touch game developers, who are charged a scant $99 to get started in the program. But it's less than PSP developers have ever been charged before, and it's a start in the right direction to get more PSP games on a fast-track to getting ready for release in time for the PSPgo's October debut.

Outside of a slew of new game announcements for the PS3 and an engineering prototype of a new controller, Sony also revealed that PSPgo an PSP-3000 users will be able to download a new music app called "SensMe Channels," a mood-based music recommendation system, and a new Windows-specific PSP content management application.

Throwing Apple in the mix

During the first few months of the iPhone and iPod touch's run with the App Store, many people pooh-poohed the idea that Apple could complete with Sony or Nintendo for the hearts and minds of mobile game players, but it's become readily apparent in recent months, with comments from Apple executives supporting this notion, that the iPod touch, especially, really is a game-changing device -- pardon the pun.

But as time has gone on, it's plain to see that Sony, anyway, recognizes the opportunities and challenges that Apple presents. So it seems only fitting that at a trade show that will, to a certain extent, emphasize publishers who are creating content for the iPhone and iPod touch, that Sony should also showcase its latest portable device which also emphasizes downloadable content.

Sony isn't throwing out the baby with the bathwater just yet, however. With the PSP-3000 still available for the foreseeable future, Sony's simply hedging its bets with the PSPgo, presuming that some of its customers will trade the higher price and smaller dimensions for the inability to play any legacy games or movies they can use with other PSPs.

This story, "Sony Unveils PSPgo, New Prices on Development Hardware" was originally published by Macworld.

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