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Sony announces new portable game system, super touchy-feely
In the first big huge announcement of 2011, Sony just unveiled its new portable game system, codenamed NGP, which seems part iPod Touch, but mostly PSP on steroids.
Posted January 27, 2011
Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. (SCE) today announced its next generation portable entertainment system, codenamed NGP and set to debut at retail during the holiday shopping frenzy of 2011.

Said to leverage the mojo of its PlayStation Portable (PSP) and PlayStation3 (PS3) game systems, Sony is touting the NGP as "a revolutionary combination of rich gaming and social connectivity within a real world context."

With a nod to Apple's M.O., the NGP will be available in a number of models; all will feature Wi-fi and Bluetooth connectivity, GPS, two cameras (front and back), gyroscopic and accelerometer motion-sensitivity, but only the "premium" version will sport 3G connectivity, a first for any dedicated portable game system.

But with Wi-fi alone, the NGP will focus heavily on social connectivity, including an enhanced PlayStation Network and an app called "Near" that will ping a user's surroundings to find other NGPs in the vicinity and offer the option to hook up, text, connect and/or play games together.

NGP will sport a 5-inch, high-def (16:9, 960 x 544), multi-touch OLED display on the front while the back of the system will include a capacitive, multi-touch trackpad, also a first. This backside touchpad will allow users to interface with the NGP with their fingertips, which would otherwise just hang back there to grip the thing.

The NGP's ergonomic, ovoid chassis will feature two analog thumbsticks - another first - as well as the traditional 4-way directional pad on the left and a 4-button array on the right. The PSP's familiar shoulder buttons will sit up top; one left, one right.

Significantly, Sony has finally done away with the proprietary Universal Media Disc (UMD) - which was not "universal" by any stretch of the imagination and generally considered a failure of Betamax proportions - and opted instead to put NGP retail game titles on a flash memory cards (exact format not specified). This is significant on many levels, not the least of which is considerable power and battery savings that stems from not using a mechanically spun storage medium.

Flash memory also allows for things like games saves and downloaded expansion content to be easily saved to said same memory. What's more, flash memory capacity is not fixed, which will allow game developers to put small games on inexpensive, small capacity cards while bigger games and even games of the future that might need, say, 16GB of storage, to each and all fit into the same card format. In a word, NGP's removable storage medium is "futureproof."

While the NGP has all the earmarks of an undeniably excellent handheld game system, it can be argued that its unveiling is 2 years late and a few billion dollars short. The handheld game space has long been dominated by Nintendo, first with the Game Boy, then the DS line of dual screen systems, and soon the highly anticipated Nintendo 3DS, which, while a smaller and less powerful system, will feature 3-dimensional imagery without the need for special 3D glasses - a noteworthy, attention-grabbing advancement for games in general.

Sony has never lead in the portable market.

Meanwhile, Apple surprised a few sleepers by easily competing in the handheld games market, first with the iPhone and iPod Touch, and now the iPad, all offering exceptional game experiences on devices that weren't initially pegged as portable game systems. Similarly, games for Android-based smartphones and tablet computers are also securing serious marketshare.

That said, after a failed revamp of the PSP in the unremarkable PSP-Go, Sony is clearly going all out with the NGP. Not only does NGP appear to be an aggressively powerful and supremely functional portable game system, Sony is opening it up to game developers of any stripe and inclination. To wit: Sony also announced today (separately) the PlayStation Suite (PS Suite), a new game content development system for Android based portable devices - and there are only a few zillion of those things on the market. These Android-based games will also play on the new NGP, making it a game system compatible with both specifically-designed games (Uncharted Portable, pictured, for example), apps and multimedia, obviously, but also the hundreds of thousands of apps and games made for Android's mass market, interactive content big and small, cheap and free in some cases, but likely played best on NGP simply for its familiar if not superior controller layout.

Sony did not announce a price point for NGP.
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