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Why the time is right for a Sony PlayStation Phone

It's time Sony pulled the trigger on a true PlayStation smartphone.

Published onAugust 5, 2018

Sony Xperia PS4 logo PlayStation Phone

It’s no secret Sony is struggling to find any kind of solid foothold in the modern smartphone market. A recent sales report paints a bleak picture for the Japanese giant’s mobile division, but in truth, Sony has struggled for close to a decade to keep pace with industry leaders like Samsung, Apple, and more recently HUAWEI.

There are many, many plausible explanations for Sony’s continued poor performance, from pricing, to non-existent marketing, to not keeping pace with design trends. No matter the disease, the company needs to find a cure if it wants to compete.

Sony’s Xperia family underwent a minor reboot with the transition from the Z-series to the X-series just over two years ago, but it wasn’t enough. Sony needs something bold and exciting to grab attention — something capitalizing on a current trend and also playing into the wider company’s brand legacy.

It needs a PlayStation Phone.

PlayStation Phone: Wait, haven’t we been here before?

Sony Xperia Play

Let’s take a quick trip back in time to early 2011 and the release of the Sony Xperia Play. Widely dubbed the “PlayStation Phone” in pre-release coverage, the Xperia Play was a strange hybrid of Ericsson-era Sony phones and the ill-fated PlayStation Portable handheld, the PSP Go.

The Xperia Play launched to much fanfare, but slowly faded into obscurity.

Outfitted with a slide-out controller setup and shoulder buttons, the Xperia Play launched to much fanfare and quickly faded into obscurity.

Despite offering “Xperia Play-optimized” Android games and a handful of classic PlayStation titles through the PlayStation Pocket app, a general lack of support and the rapid advancement of gaming and mobile hardware left the Xperia Play as a one-off curiosity — an odd experiment in cross-brand splicing that failed to generate sales or lasting hype.

Nowadays, Sony’s gaming focus on mobile is scattershot to say the least. Xperia devices support Remote Play with PS4 consoles so you can play AAA games on your Xperia phone or tablet. You can even strap an official DualShock controller mount to your device, Frankenstein-style, and play said games with an actual PS4 controller.

Sony Xperia Remote Play

There’s also the PlayStation app — essentially a barebones hub for your PlayStation account — the PSN Store, and PlayStation Messages, which barely works and probably shouldn’t exist.

While you can technically play console games on the go on an Xperia phone or tablet, the lag and awkward peripheral design are deal breakers for many consumers. Much like the rest of Sony’s mobile strategy, it can and should be doing better, and a fully-fledged PlayStation Phone could be just the ticket.

PlayStation Phone: Why now?

The obvious answer is money. In the same quarter that its mobile division almost halved its global smartphone sales year-on-year, Sony raked in $1.8 billion in profit, the lion’s share of which came from the company’s PlayStation wing.

In any industry, branding is key. In the mobile industry, where the Xperia name means very little to consumers. In the gaming space, PlayStation is currently king. Bringing the brand into the mobile space could be what Sony needs to reignite interest in its mobile products.

Razer Phone

It’s the perfect time to unleash a PlayStation Phone. There’s been a recent wave of “gaming phones,” kicking off with the incredibly well-received Razer Phone and continuing with the Xiaomi Black Shark, HONOR Play, nubia REDMAGIC. The upcoming ASUS ROG Phone shows this trend isn’t stopping soon.

The best phones for gaming: Play faster and better
Best products
ASUS ROG Phone 8 with AeroActive Cooler X accessory (2)

It’s a niche field, but with everyone from Samsung to LG (two OEMs currently on the opposite ends of the success spectrum) blaming ailing sales on smartphone design and hardware stagnation, now is a good time to try something a little different. Potentially ruling over a subsection of the smartphone market under the banner of the strongest gaming brand in the world sounds a lot better than floundering in the mainstream.

Sony has been burned by the handheld console market twice with the PSP and PS Vita — two beautifully constructed, technically impressive devices wiped off the face of the Earth by Nintendo’s cheaper, less powerful, but infinitely more accessible handheld offerings, the Nintendo DS and 3DS.

sony ps vita ps4 sony xperia smartphone

In more recent years, Nintendo’s gone all-in on portable gaming with the home console-handheld hybrid Nintendo Switch (with an e-shop full of mobile game ports) and by releasing Android and iOS games based on some of the company’s biggest licenses. It’s fair to say both endeavors have gone pretty well so far.

There is no company out there in a stronger position to further blur the lines between mobile and traditional gaming platforms than Sony.

Like Nintendo, Sony has a wealth of intellectual properties in its back pocket for another push into the portable gaming space. It also has an entire division dedicated to mobile hardware development.

There is no company out there in a stronger position to further blur the lines between mobile and traditional gaming platforms than Sony.

PlayStation Phone: What would it actually be like?

The billion dollar question, though, is how a PlayStation Phone would look and play in 2018. Would it be more like a handheld console that also functions as a basic phone, or a traditional Android phone with top-end specs, improved controller integration, and a library of PlayStation games?

While we’ve yet to put it through its paces for a full review, the ASUS ROG Phone — with its ultrasonic shoulder buttons and vapor-chamber cooling peripheral — is the most intriguing of the current batch of Android gaming phones. It’s not hard to picture a similarly styled device bearing the PlayStation logo.

Hands-on: The ASUS ROG gaming phone is a beast
The ASUS ROG Phone.

Personally, I’d love to see a PlayStation Phone bring together the ambition of the PSP/Vita, the hardware expertise of the Xperia team, and the power of the PlayStation brand to create a true successor to the Xperia Play — maybe even with a Switch-inspired twist.

Modularity is still something of a dirty word in the mobile industry, but the Switch’s JoyCon controllers have been a huge hit, as has the plug-and-play nature of the console itself.

sony xperia nintendo switch

I can’t be the only one imagining a PlayStation Phone with a modular, Xperia Play-style controller attachment that plays Android games, brand new titles, and PlayStation classics, and connects up to a TV. If you need a little help on that final idea, there’s a little startup named Wonder looking for an OEM partner for its WonderOS project.

Wrapping up

No matter what your idea of a PlayStation Phone might be (and I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments), there’s one single, inescapable truth: Xperia is not a strong brand and it never has been.

When you think Sony, you don't think Xperia, you think PlayStation.

When you think Samsung, you think Galaxy. When you think Apple, you think iPhone. When billions around the world think Sony, they don’t think Xperia, they think PlayStation.

Up next: 15 best Android games of 2018!

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