So the PSP Go! is upon us, just a mere 10 days left for those who're waiting to get their hands on it. But last night, I got the thinkin' while I was in bed trying to fall asleep. What's in store for the next PSP? Yes, yes I know it's a faux pas to resurrect something that hasn't been discussed in a while, but ever since Sony announced the PSP Go!, talks of a next-generation PSP have seemingly stopped. Why? Clearly the PSP Go! is not the next of kin for the PlayStation handheld business, and an all new PSP is surely in development. And while I've done this before, I believe we have a few new leads for me to dip into and discuss. So let's take some cues from Sony's current business model and make a few logical guesses about what we can expect out of an all new PSP.
For starters, I see the PSP Go! as more of an experiment, rather than a permanent fixture or solution for eradicating a format – the UMD, in this case. Moreover, Sony recently went on record to state that they have no plans to abandon the UMD format, which implies something very crucial for a next-generation PSP. The implication here seems to be that a new PSP would boast both a drive and internal storage space, allowing gamers to physically buy and download games for their handheld unit. This model is much like that of the PlayStation 3, where games that are more simplistic and not necessarily worth pressing onto a disc, bundled with a hard case and color booklet, are made to be downloadable. These downloadable games range anywhere from 100MB to 4GB, and so far it's worked out extremely well for Sony. Best of all, we've had some truly epic gems hit the downloadable front, with Warhawk, WipeOut, and Gran Turismo 5: Prologue leading the way, proving that just because these games are downloadable, does not mean they can't be full fledged titles.
So what does the PSP Go! have to do with anything? As Sony's experiment, the PSP Go! is a unit that will measure the desire and demand from handheld gamers to download their games from an online service, as PlayStation 3 owners have been for the past three years now. If the PSP Go! is successful enough in Sony's eyes, the next-gen PSP will most certainly boast a robust online store with developers given the freedom to publish just as they would on the PS3's store, in addition to still boasting larger, more expansive games on UMDs.
Now, while the current UMD format is good for 1.8GB of storage, an all new PSP would require more storage capacity from its designated format simply due to the increased level of visual quality (larger textures, higher quality sound, higher quality CG cutscenes, etc.). So, I predict a slight boost in storage capacity for the UMD format to give developers more than enough room to cram their larger projects without running into a bottle neck. Again, since Sony doesn't plan to abandon the UMD format, it only makes sense that the next-gen PSP would boast a UMD drive and also allow gamers to download from a store.
As far as network features, 802.11n capability should be a shoe in, as the PSP's current 802.11b capability is dated and an all new PSP could surely benefit from having the most up-to-date networking/WLAN features, especially if online becomes a staple for it. Which brings me to my next point: online gameplay. A vast majority of PSP games are missing online gameplay, because like the PlayStation 2, the online network isn't very solid for the PSP, and developers often complain about developing online gameplay for their PSP games. Expect this to be cleared up and, instead, turned into a major focus for the next-gen PSP – online functionality should be a driving force for this unit.
One of my current beliefs right now is that the reason the PSP Go! exists beyond just being an experiment is because Sony is trying to prove to would-be publishers and developers that the PSP brand is worth it. It's worth it in the sense that it's worth keeping alive and developing for, because there is a userbase and there is potential for profit. But thanks to a grueling 2008 where the PSP faltered in the United States and other parts of the world (excluding Japan), Sony may be having a hard time convincing developers/publishers to start some preliminary work on next-gen PSP games. Surely there's a prototype or concept of the all new PSP somewhere within the confines of Sony, and as promising as this concept may be, a developer/publisher will not want to take a risk on a brand that has taken a hit to its image and does not boast a very active userbase. So here comes 2009, or 'the Year of the PSP', as Sony has billed it numerous times. It's time to rebuild the PSP brand and wake up a sleeping userbase, as well as entice new owners to join with a PSP Go!, Gran Turismo, MotorStorm, SoulCalibur, Jak and Daxter, God of War, Crisis Core: FFVII, Dissidia: Final Fantasy, various bundles, and much more. Before we can actually see this all new PSP come to life, Sony needs to bring the current one back into the limelight, giving prospective developers/publishers incentive to create for the next-gen iteration.
Now, a frequently rumored aspect of the all new PSP has been a touch screen. With Apple sitting on a cash cow, thanks to the iPhone/iPod Touch and the horde of touch-based games available for the units, Sony will very likely want to approach their new online model in a very similar manner. I do expect some touch screen functionality, likewise I also expect a plethora of simplistic games to take advantage of that functionality, as well. Whether or not anyone with programming skill will be allowed to publish their interactive titles is up in the air. But with the recent push of games like LittleBigPlanet and ModNation Racers, it seems likely that Sony will allow regular folk like you and I to publish our own creations, right?
Now, despite a touch screen, what I don't expect is the removal of conventional buttons. Quite frankly, I still see games on an iPhone/iTouch as a novelty that aren't very refined and, quite often difficult to control. Buttons are still a necessity, and for the all new PSP I expect two new buttons (most likely added as additional buttons near the shoulder), as well as a second analog stick. Numerous PSP games with complicated control schemes have shown us that a second analog stick is a must, and we're sure Sony knows this and is listening.
So, when can we expect all of this? Not for a while. Definitely not at next year's E3, that'd be way too soon, considering the launch of the PSP Go!. I'd say an all new PSP won't be announced until the next Tokyo Game Show in 2010, with a release aimed at sometime in 2011, possibly the first quarter.