Before the rise of rectangular, touch-screen smartphones with massive and impressive screen-to-body ratios was the advent of unique and different phones which sometimes paid more attention to form over function.
One of these phones was Sony’s Ericsson’s Xperia Play, an Android-powered smartphone that was designed for users who wanted a cellphone and the PlayStation gaming experience in one.
However, the phone that was supposed to be revolutionary in the Android and smartphone industry miserably failed. While being technologically advanced for its time, the phone did not catch on and soon disappeared from the market. Read on and know why the first PlayStation phone failed.
The Background Story
In 2003, Nokia struggled to solve the gaming phone puzzle, albeit being a telecommunications company. People thought if anybody could do it, it would be Sony Ericsson with its mighty PlayStation brand, which at that time was creating a buzz in the gaming world.
The Xperia Play was part of Sony’s response to the issue of losing popularity to mobile gaming on smartphones and the myriad of games that come with them at almost half the price of the games in their own PSP game library.
Released months ahead of the PlayStation Vita in 2011, Xperia Play was rumored to be the much-awaited PlayStation Phone that the public wanted to get.
The phone, which heavily drew inspiration from the PSP Go, was envisioned to integrate gaming and cellular features in a single device.
Xperia Play VS. PSP Go
A slider allowed Sony to combine a 3.8 screen and relatively comfortable hardware controls. It even had curved sides, an uncanny similarity to the PSP Go.
The Xperia Play had a slightly larger screen with almost double the resolution – 4.0″ and 480 x 854px. With a D-pad on the left and action keys on the right, the game controls were also nearly the same.
However, two touch-sensitive controls substituted the single analog joystick, although both devices had roughly the same Z-height: 16.0 mm for the Xperia, 16.5 mm for the PSP.
The Xperia Play Phone
Xperia Play is a smartphone powered by Android and the first device to be PlayStation-approved. Its sliding design is a combination of the PSP Go and the Xperia X10, both fantastic devices.
It has dedicated game keys, L / R shoulder buttons, and the popular PlayStation icon action buttons and is designed for gaming.
It is the first device to be compliant with the PlayStation Suite as the first PlayStation Certified. It was priced at $599 during its launch.
The device features a 1 GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, a Qualcomm Adreno 2015 GPU and a 5.1 MP camera. It has 512 MB RAM, 400 MB of internal storage, and is able to support microSD cards.
Xperia Play runs on Android 2.3 Gingerbread but its early prototypes were tested on Android 2.2 Froyo.
The device is compatible with applications downloaded from the Google Play Store. It also offered game optimization to take advantage of the phone’s unique PSP console.
While it certainly did seem advanced for its time, the software was nothing spectacular as the chip embedded in the device was not the top-of-the-line chipset during that time. However, the chipset can adequately run the device without issues.
What the Xperia Play Offered
Today, PlayStation understands precisely what gamers want. But that hasn’t always been the case, especially not in the case of Xperia Play.
The Android-powered phone had two analog touchpads and its own PlayStation shop for games with a flip-out gamepad.
Although the launch lineup had some decent game deals as an attempt to satisfy everyone – the PlayStation store was available on various phones. That meant the games had to be designed specifically for the phone so everyone could play.
If Sony were really sincere with their effort to satisfy everyone, they could have optimized games for the device instead of limiting the games that could be played on the phone.
Sony’s seemingly half-hearted initiative on the Xperia Play was the start of the device’s downfall. Originally thought to be a PlayStation phone, Xperia Play did not live up to the public’s expectations.
Many games were not designed for the killer feature of the Xperia Play: the well-appointed slide-out controller. So most of the games you could play on the phone were very short and simple, not like the popular games around.
With Android’s gaining popularity that time, it was a tough time for Sony to market the phone and compete with Android, which we will delve into in detail in the next section.
A Small Game Library
Because there were not a lot of available games from the PSP game library that could run on Android, the games that came pre-installed with the phone were actually links to third-party websites such as Gameloft and Google Play.
Although the game library is not as cohesive as one would expect, the phone still offers a “library” where you can browse and download games.
The 10 PlayStation games (with a few being exclusives to Xperia Play users) that came with the phone was a great addition.
However, Sony could have done more had they developed new games for the device much like how Nintendo dominates the market for its GameBoy, DS, and Switch games.
No Remote Play
The limited games users can play with the Xperia Play ended the conversation for Sony and users who were expecting a real PlayStation phone – a phone that could run PlayStation games.
Users at that time could not use the phone to play games found on the PlayStation 3, which was another missed opportunity to boost the usability of the device.
No One Was Ready
Sadly, something at the time was working against Sony. Android was also just coming out of its childhood, and in Android games in 2011, standard game controller support was not widespread.
Usually, this meant that the gamepad was only good for the items you find in Sony’s PlayStation Shop, which as mentioned, did not have an expansive and impressive collection of games.
On a global scale, the phone also had limited availability, which resulted in low sales, and meant limited support from even Sony itself.
The Xperia Play was a complete disappointment to both fans and to the company itself, but that was not the end of Sony’s dark days.
The PSP Vita
After the disappointment Sony endured from the much-awaited Xperia Play, the company brought unto itself another source of disappointment: the PSP Vita, the predecessor to the PSP.
The reception of the device was relatively worse than that of the Xperia Play, with sales plummeting after just a year.
It took Sony quite some time to regain the public’s trust after the release of the Xperia Play and PSP vita.
The New Xperia: Bigger and Better
While Sony did not release a follow-up on the Xperia Play, probably because of the sting the company got after the phone’s release, Sony is now hard at work with the upcoming release of the Xperia III phones, Sony’s current flagship line of smartphones.
The Xperia 1 III, one of the phones under this flagship line, has been highly regarded by technology enthusiasts and phone junkies. It shows the lengths Sony has gone to improve its products in the smartphone department since the Xperia Play’s flop.
The Xperia 1 III comes at a hefty price of $1,300 though, so Sony’s really gambling with this one as the price is close to its competitors’ more popular and cult-favorite flagships, with Apple and Samsung taking the lead.
The new Xperia 1 III is geared toward photographers, artists, and other creative types, which is a radical shift from the Xperia Play targeted towards gamers.
A Shift in Perspective
With Sony following suit and adopting Android in its smartphone, the company saved itself from collapse in the mobile sphere, much like that of Blackberry’s and Motorola’s fate.
While gaming still shapes a large market of the smartphone industry, Sony has decided to veer away from that department and shift its focus to creating smartphones with better cameras, impressive screens, and other features.
The evolution of the Sony Xperia is an example of how taking a big yet calculated leap to the bandwagon can ultimately save a company from its demise.
The Xperia Play gaming phone is one of the most unsuccessful products put out by Sony. However, the excellent thing is that Sony has adopted the Android platform for their recent and upcoming releases of the new Xperia phones, giving Sony another shot at making waves in the smartphone industry.