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What Should a PlayStation Vita Sequel Look Like?

Many people would say that Sony should abandon portable gaming altogether, especially given how much Nintendo has dominated this arena in recent years, and, more importantly, how mobile gaming now dominates both companies’ offerings altogether.  As I’ve waxed on before, I prefer portable to mobile (i.e. handheld console to smartphone), in large part because of the physical controls.  While the analog sticks, face buttons, d-pad, and shoulder buttons are all small on Vita, I will take these any day over using a touchscreen only.  As such, I want Sony to continue working in this admittedly dwindling market; here are my armchair ideas:

Screen

While the OLED display on the original Vita is quite rich, Sony was right to switch to an LCD panel in the revised and slimmed down Vita PCH-2000.  Two benefits arose: one, the unit was less expensive to manufacture; two, the battery life was noticeably improved.  A sequel to the Vita should just go ahead and retain this status quo (though a higher PPI and wide-angle IPS would be welcome.)  Size-wise, I would leave the dimensions alone.  In my pie-in-the-sky dreams, I would also like Sony to adopt a Gorilla Glass 3 panel, which will be scratch resistant and light, compared to the existing ones that use scratch-prone plastic.

Controls

I believe the best addition the Vita brought to market was a second analog stick, which was lacking on the PlayStation Portable series.  This allowed for true 3D gaming, which greatly paid off in many of Vita’s titles.  But while the handheld attempted to mimic a DualShock 3, it was lacking in a few areas: first, the face buttons could stand to be about 20% larger than they are now.  Same goes for the d-pad and analog sticks.  There is way more bezel on the Vita than there needs to be, so there is room to invade those areas.  Second, the sequel needs to somehow account for L2 and R2, as well as L3 and R3 (i.e. triggers to go with the shoulder buttons, and clickable analog sticks).  As it stands today, those missing input methods are simulated with various touchscreen or rear touchpad taps. Again, we want physical controls.

Additionally, let’s mimic the DualShock 4 and offer Share and Option buttons, instead of Select and Start.  As Vita has today, we’ll retain Sixaxis support as well.

Cameras

I really can’t justify the inclusion of a rear camera.  Who is using his or her Vita to take snapshots?  I would think the Venn Diagram of Vita owners who also own smartphones overlaps quite a bit.  As for the front camera, I can see some utility in treating it like a PlayStation 4 Camera, though it’s field of view is much tighter than its home-console counterpart.  I would consider that front one optional but probably unnecessary: we don’t need to be video conferencing on this device.  It’s for games.  Dropping these will save a fair amount of cost.

Touch Input

Keeping the touchscreen makes a lot of sense for menu navigation.  Also, it’s a good way to simulate the DualShock 4’s touchpad, so I say leave it in.  The reach touchpad, on the other hand, is useless.  Lose it and save the money.  Doing so will reduce power consumption and save space.  Further, not having this input method will reduce spurious inputs to boot.

Processor

This is a big one: something Sony should do is use ARM processors in the next Vita, instead of proprietary ones.  Sony realized the value in switching to an industry-standard x86-64 Intel-compatible processor in the PS4; it should do the same in its handheld by embracing the industry standard in mobile computing.  ARM processors are incredibly powerful now, and better still, they’re incredibly power efficient.  Moreover, adopting such a ubiquitous architecture will simplify development and encourage mobile developers to consider porting their games to this new handheld.

Wireless

This console needs to adopt at least 802.11n (as should the PS4, by the way), but 802.11ac would be even better, obviously.  High-speed, reliable WiFI will help make it an even better Remote Play device than its forebear.  Secondly, let’s not even bother with cellular networking.  The extra cost from a manufacturing standpoint, as well as to the consumer, is not worth it for the limited functionality it offered in the 3G Vita.  Most people have hotspot access on their smartphone plans now anyway.

Storage

Sony’s decision to employ a proprietary memory card in the Vita is simultaneously understandable from a business angle and deeply anti-consumer from a customer’s.  Worse still, these cards were shockingly expensive for their limited storage: the 32GB capacity was a staggering $100, while its SDXC card equivalent was less than $30.  Today, a 64GB Vita card has taken that $100 position, but an SDXC card of that size is $25.  Absurd difference.

Either use SDXC with an industry-standard encryption (perhaps AES 128 or 256) to prevent save-file manipulation and piracy, or only use internal memory and obfuscate the whole thing.  If Sony were to choose the latter, however, this console could not have less than 64GB; ideally, it would be 128GB.  That could get expensive.  I saw Sony should simply employ the SDXC cards.

Game Distribution

The use of game cartridges is woefully dated; let’s drop that altogether and save money on manufacturing and retail distribution.  Further, leaving that out reduces the cost of this console further and frees up more space.  Instead, all games will be digital only, as it is done on mobile now.  Will this alienate people who don’t have reliable access to broadband or maybe have data caps?  Sure.  This would be a good way to loop in retail partners by having “download kiosks” where customers can hook their new Vita sequels to and download them directly.

PlayStation Now

Time will tell if Sony’s investment into Gaikai will pay off in the form of PlayStation Now, but the technology itself appears sound to me.  But to make this Vita sequel a good citizen of this service, the hardware ideas from above will need to be there: one-to-one DualShock mapping is necessary.  Do that, and this console could potentially rule the roost with a subscription service that will hopefully open up to most PS1, PS2, and PS3 games.  Such a library would be incomparable.

Naming

Heretofore, I’ve been calling this proposed handheld the Vita sequel.  I actually don’t think it should use that name at all, since the PlayStation Vita has an underserved reputation as an overpriced, under-supported platform (well, kind of).  Instead, let’s embrace the highly successful PlayStation Portable brand and name this next console PSP4 (to align it with the PS4 product cycle).1

Pricing

This console must, must, must come in under $200, even if that’s $199.99.  Eliminating the cameras and rear touchpad, committing to LCD, dropping the game cartridge slot, and slimming the whole unit down due to the afforded extra space, should go a long way.  From a development standpoint, leaning on well-understood technology like ARM processors, as well avoiding superfluous application development (like an email client, calendar, and other quasi-smartphone apps) should help, too.

Final Thoughts

The console should look and feel like a premium device.  I would adopt the two-tone and matte-like finish of the DualShock 4, reserving the piano-black to a small bezel around the display.  Let’s round the edges like the Vita slim to try to make this thing as comfortable as can be.  (It should go without saying, but I’m going to do so anyway: the PSP4 should employ a common connector, like micro-USB, just as the Vita slim does.  Let’s support 2.4A fast charging at the same time.)

This should be thought of as a hardcore device, but if it’s priced in a competitive way and has strong support for retro-games, I believe it could do well.  It may never sell 100 million units, but if it somehow reached, say, 25 million, that would be worth the effort.

Most PlayStation Vita owners love their handhelds: the game-attachment rate is especially high: last I heard, it was over a dozen gamers on average.  (This exceeds every home console and competing portables.)  Indie developers have realized the value in tapping into so loyal a fanbase, and those companies have flourished there.  My vision for PSP4 should continue to attract those vital creators but also (hopefully) entice interest from developers who have expansive back catalogs, or ones that are interested in mobile development already.


  1.  Sony could justify it as the fourth PSP since it’s the successor to the PSP-1000/2000/3000, PSP Go, and PSP-E1000.  (I know that’s pushing it logically, since all of these are really the same handheld, but compare this to Microsoft’s numbering for Windows, which has not made sense in a long time.  It is what it is.)
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Written by Michael

21 September 2015 at 8:00 pm