With Sony having just revealed its new handheld PlayStation Vita console, analysts and consumers alike have begun speculating about whether the Vita will be able to reverse the handheld console market's ailing fortunes.
The Nintendo 3DS dip
Since the boom in both the tablet and smartphone markets many analysts have begun to question whether consumers will want to invest large sums of money in dedicated portable consoles.
The question stems from the fact that for an equivalent price -- or few hundred pounds more for the top-end of the market -- users can now buy a smartphone or tablet that as well as access to games and app stores, also grants them a host of telecommunication and 3G features.
The ailing fortune of Nintendo's new 3DS handheld has often been cited as a possible example of this thesis.
In April this year, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata was forced to reveal that despite the large amounts of investment both in the development and marketing of its new console, the 3DS had failed to meet the company's opening sales projections.
In the sales report published on Nintendo's website, Iwata commented:
"Sales were high in the initial week, but sales fell below our expectations after the second week. Nintendo 3DS has not been selling as expected since the second week, and this is not just in the Japanese market but also in the United States and Europe, where no direct impact from the great earthquake has occurred.
"Therefore, we recognise that we are in a situation where we need to step up our efforts to further promote the spread of Nintendo 3DS."
Specifically, the console only managed to sell 3.61 million units out of Nintendo's four-million target.
In the same statement Iwata went on to imply that the company had added the 3D feature as well as its updated StreetPass and SpotPass feature to offer something unique that couldn't be found in the growing smartphone and tablet gaming market.
The rise of the smartphone
The fact that the smartphone and tablet markets are growing is not news. With the rise of Google's Android OS and the slew of affordable smartphones using it, the general user no longer has to shell-out £500-plus to join the party.
Add to this the fact that -- in what many have considered a key move -- despite raising the device's technical specs Apple actually lowered the price of its new iPad 2 and one can clearly see why the market is on the up.
The PlayStation Vita
The PlayStation Vita seems set to combat the number of users content to simply use their smarphone or tablet for gaming on the move.
As revealed during Sony's E3 press conference, the new console is set to pack several significant upgrades over its PSP predecessor -- not least the addition of 3G functionality and a full set of two analogue joysticks.
Priced at around £250, with the addition of 3G connectivity, users will no longer be bound to a the confines of wireless networks. This means that as was the case with the Apple app store and Android Marketplace, Vita users will be able to makes use of the PlayStation Network's store to buy and play games online wherever and whenever they like.
This feature adds to the inherent advantages of a dedicated gaming device.
The handheld's strengths
Developing for the mobile market can be a hazardous affair. The fact that outside of motion controls -- which not all smartphones or tablets have -- in general the only universal interface is the device's touch screen. This immediately hampers what game developers can do in regards to the controls.
To date no hardcore game has really been successful in finding a way to create an adequate control system for more complex gameplay scenarios.
Add to this the fact that -- especially when it comes to Android -- every phone has different technical specs and one can see why developers for the systems are constantly complaining about how inhibited they are when making a game for the smartphone market.
The Vita on the other hand, like all handheld consoles, will have uniform unchanging specs and controls. A fact which in turn allows developers to know exactly how far they can push the device making it more suited to the hardcore gaming market.
What makes the Vita interesting is that as well as catering to the hardcore market, it may also be making moves on the casual gaming sector. With the addition of its own touch screen and rear touch-pad, the Vita could easily play all the current Android marketplace and Apple App Store hits. This when coupled with the ability to download games anywhere would bring many add yet another strength traditionally associated with the smartphone gaming market to the device.
Whether upon release the PlayStation Vita will be able to make good its potential and overcome the current hacking troubles facing its parent company remains to be seen, but it will certainly be interesting to watch it try.