When I first looked at the NGP, I thought that it was the most impressive handheld technology I’d ever seen. That still holds true, but how long before current technology catches up? Well, it could be a mere 6 months after it is released. You could tell me, “Well steev, it seems like an obvious argument that technology gets better and better making the current stuff seem obsolete in a mater of months.” This is true, but the difference is in in the type of CPU/GPU used, how the portable gaming market has shifted, and how Sony has thwarted the NGP by their own efforts.
Right now, the most impressive feature of the NGP, tech wise, is the quad core processor. To put it in perspective: the current PSP utilizes a 333MGz processor, and both current models of the iPhone and Android utilize a single core Arm Cortex-A8 1GHz processor. Currently, the NGP utilizes quad (that is four) Arm Cortex-A9 processors that can be clocked anywhere from 800MGz to 2GHz, but my guess is around 1.5GHz. Yea, that is significantly greater than anything on the market. By the end of this month, the Motorola Atrix 4G will launch and it will be using the NVIDIA Tegra 2 processor, which is a dual core Arm Cortex-A9 processor and will use the Android OS. That dual core processor will make it the most powerful smartphone on the market.
At this point, you might be wondering a couple things, and if you aren’t, then I will give you two things to wonder about. The first is: “But steev, your argument only backs up that the NGP is way better than anything out on the market.” Yes, right now. NVIDIA has already announced the Tegra 3, which is a quad core processor which uses four Arm Cortex-A9 processors. Sound familiar? That doesn’t include the other companies that have also developed a quad core mobile processor using the Arm Cortex-A9 and the companies working on it still, probably very close to finishing since many have already. This means by mid-2013, you will see those processors make their way to smartphones, maybe even earlier. FYI, if you are planning on getting a new phone this year, you should probably wait. The NGP is due out by the end of the year, maybe later if there are any delays. So by the time it hits the market, people will already be looking at the future smartphones that will have the same power as the NGP.
The second thing you should be wondering about is: “Why does it matter if smartphones are as powerful as the NGP?” Well, if you look at the PSP and how even the first generation iPhone was more powerful, then it makes since that you would think that. However, the biggest difference is that the PSP used the same processor as the PS2 and it allowed Sony to give the same tools to developers to make PSP games as they did PS2 games. That means developers were already well-skilled at making PSP games and it was easy for PSP games to look like PS2 games. The difference in the NGP is that Sony is using the same processor that smartphones use, making most games developed for one platform easily ported over to the other platform. When the NGP promised phone games like Infinity Blade and Angry Birds, it was because of that reason. Imagine if the Xbox 360 and the PS3 had the same processors. That would make games play on both consoles without the crappy PS3 ports that you commonly find. The main reason PS3 gets so many bad ports is because the processor is harder to develop for, so most companies develop for the 360. That means both NGP game developers and Smartphone game developers would be developing for similar systems.
One side point that you may or may not be wondering about is the GPU. The GPU is a moot point because most GPUs piggyback off of the processor. That means the CPU is the more important tool. Plus, the GPU was developed by a third party that can be put into smartphones the same way the CPU is, so I would just be arguing the same points over.
With the tech aside, the biggest question comes into play in terms of the game developers and the gaming experience that the NGP offers. The PSP and the NGP have one thing that the smartphone market doesn’t have, and that is major developers making high quality games for them. No matter how much you like Angry Birds or the EA titles like Mirror’s Edge, in the end those games hold no weight to titles like God of War or Uncharted. However, when you look at how many apps have been downloaded from Apple since the launch of the App Store in 2009, which is 10+ billion, then take into consideration that the new NGP processor will allow for games to make their way to the mobile market with little effort, the fact that mobile games are coming to NGP and we have seen a select few titles from PSP in the App store; I believe that the next generation of portable games will include smartphones in their launch. When you look at huge titles that make their way to every system including smartphones, like The Forced Unleashed, I wouldn’t be shocked to see developers push to release the same game on each system because it would mean less work with a new larger base.
The last major negative I know many gamers dislike about smartphones is the use of touch screens. Owning an iPod Touch myself, I know that nothing can replace the feeling of using tactile controls for many games, like those offered on the PSP and NGP. However, after using the iPod Touch, while I definitely prefer actual buttons, I have gotten use to the touch screen controls. Many smart phone users would probably express similar sentiments. Even with that said, it is merely a preference. If game developers can still sell their games with people not minding that functionality, then that will effect the market in a very limited sense. Also, with the introduction of the Xperia Play (aka the PSP phone), depending on its sales, we might see a whole new line of phones that offer that kind of tactile feeling to a certain lines of phones.
The last thing I mentioned was that the NGP would be done in by Sony. In the last several years, Sony has developed a reputation of destroying itself and that can be seen in a number of things. The biggest failure was the launch of the PS3. Sony banked on the success of the PS2, which was the best selling console of all time, and had just assumed that the PS3 would follow suit. However, that was not the case. A lack of great games, a complicated processor that made companies develop on the 360 instead of PS3, Sony allowing for companies to still develop PS2 titles, and a price point which made people either buy a different console or just stick with their PS2; all of these factors led to the first year of the PS3 being a very difficult sell for most. They really alienated the casual gamer. That was probably one of the leading reasons the Xbox 360 took off leaving the PS3 behind. Sony made up for that by introducing the PS3 slim, reducing the price, and getting some really awesome exclusive titles brought to the PS3. 2009 was indeed the year of the PS3. PSP Go though was another failure brought on by more poor decisions. Now their success has again blinded them. The NGP will cost a lot and while they are getting great titles from the start, they again are alienating the casual gamer. The price is going to be huge and even if there is some kind of 3G service plan deal with it, the NGP will suffer from it being too much like a smartphone with out being a smartphone. All of these factors will make the casual gamer less willing to buy it. Lets face it, the casual gamer fuels the market, whether it is good or bad. If you want to have a successful game or hardware, you need to appeal to both markets. Also, with the introduction of PlayStation Suite, they are giving an outlet to casual gamers that will make them money, but will hurt anyone thinking about buying the NGP because they can play PSP and PlayStation titles on their smartphones without dishing out the cash to buy it.
The NGP is not a very unique device. It takes the best from the smartphone market and the PS3, combining them into one very expensive portable device. The PlayStation Move has been less successful than the Kinect for one reason: people feel that it is just an HD Wii. For the NGP to survive, it needs to be different than just an iPhone on steroids and a portable PS3. If you own both a PS3 and smartphone, then buying an NGP would seem pointless to most gamers. The NGP should be able to survive on sales of hardcore gamers, but with the more unique 3DS coming, it is hard to see the NGP making any real dent in the market. If smartphones were to make a huge leap into the gaming market, then the NGP would see small amounts of sales, which would lead to more developers jumping ship and less support from Sony. The only thing NGP really will not lose is Sony’s own developers like Media Molecule and Naughty Dog, but if they fail to deliver anything more than just repackaged PS3 games with touch controls, then the NGP will just be a costly portable gaming device.