In this age of mobile gaming, with all of the options available for cell phones, it’s sort of strange to see a company known for its console games releasing handheld hardware that is dedicated to gaming. While Nintendo’s Gameboy was revolutionary back in the day, and their DS systems still hold popularity with the younger set (those that don’t yet have cell phones), the market for handheld gaming platforms has seriously shriveled in the wake of massively expanding app stores and smartphones that can support more and more complex games with streaming graphics. Plus, you’d think Sony would have learned their lesson after the rapid decline of the PSP. But apparently they are still trying to make the format work for them since they recently launched the PlayStation Vita. And this time it appears they have a few tricks up their sleeve that may allow them to compete with other mobile devices.
The PlayStation Vita is Sony’s shot at remaining viable in the handheld gaming market, and to that end they have added some nifty features to their virtually upgraded PSP. For starters, all content is downloadable. Unfortunately, the UMDs from your PSP won’t work, but most of the titles are available for download or they can be picked up in stores on “game cards”. They have also introduced a network for Vita users called “near” that allows you to connect with friends and leave and receive game-related gifts. Plus, the device comes with options for both free WiFi connectivity and 3G service (at a monthly cost, much like your average cell phone or tablet). But perhaps their smartest move was to team up with Skype.
Anyone who follows the tech market may be scratching their heads over this one. Didn’t Skype get bought out by Microsoft, one of Sony’s major competitors? You’re not crazy – Microsoft is currently the proud owner of Skype, having acquired the service last year for the astonishing sum of $8.5 million. But it seems they have elected to allow this service to operate on other platforms. And while they recently launched Skype for use on Windows phones, they have apparently seen the value in allowing the platform to remain open. The more devices that support Skype, the larger the available network of users (some of whom are likely to use Skype credits to call landlines because it is far cheaper than, say, making international or roaming calls on a cell phone).
In any case, the addition of Skype to the PlayStation Vita provides major points in favor of the device, especially considering how many people like to chat while gaming. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as good as your consoles just yet. While you can run Skype in the background so that notifications will pop up to let you know when calls are coming in, you still have to pause your game in order to take them. In short, it’s no VoIP service or virtual PBX. But for avid gamers that love the PS platform, this handheld clearly provides the next level of connectivity, a direction that Sony will likely continue to pursue.