Not long after Sony released the third edition of its PlayStation Portable handheld game console, rumors and leaked images of a successor began circulating the Internet. This device was supposedly the PlayStation Phone, Sony's stab at a next generation gaming system and phone rolled into one. Through months of image and video leaks, Sony remained silent, never officially acknowledging the device existed. Finally, Sony Ericsson -- not Sony Computer Entertainment, the gaming subsidiary responsible for the PlayStation brand -- announced that the phone was the Xperia Play, an Android smartphone with controls designed for video games.
First and foremost, the Xperia Play is a phone. It runs on the Android operating system and supports apps like any other smartphone. The phone went on sale May 26, 2011 in the United States with a $200 price point and a standard two-year Verizon contract. The Play supports 3G Internet connectivity like every modern smartphone [source: Verizon]. But beyond the communication basics, Sony Ericsson wants to distinguish the Xperia Play as a gaming device.
To drive home the Xperia Play's gaming capabilities, Sony introduced a "PlayStation Certified" program for devices like the Play that will support classic game downloads through the PlayStation Suite. The Xperia Play may not sport the PlayStation name, but it can play emulated PlayStation games just like Sony's PlayStation Vita handheld game system can.
Sony Ericsson's Xperia Play represents a major shift that's occurred in the video game industry since the launch of Apple's iPhone in 2007. When Sony released the PlayStation Portable in 2004, video game handhelds offered a mobile gaming experience unrivaled by other areas of technology. But then the mobile landscape changed significantly. Phone hardware grew by leaps and bounds after the release of the iPhone, and in 2011, devices started adopting dual-core processors for even faster performance. A pair of CPUs performing operations at 1GHz absolutely dwarf the PSP's 333MHz clock speed.
Though Sony and Nintendo are sticking to game-focused hardware with the PlayStation Vita and 3DS, hybrid devices like the Xperia Play may be the future of mobile gaming. Sony Ericsson engineered the Xperia Play to be in a unique position: It offers average smartphone hardware that's capable of playing simple titles like "Angry Birds," with the added advantage of buttons designed for more complex games.