Sony’s Vs. Apple: The PSP2′s Secret Weapon

Sony’s Vs. Apple: The PSP2′s Secret Weapon

As handheld gaming enters a new generation, both Sony and Nintendo are cooking up ways to best Apple and the iPhone’s skyrocketing popularity. Towards the end of December, Sony Computer Entertainment’s Kaz Hirai told the New York Times that Sony will strike the iPhone and iPod Touch by developing the PSP 2 with abundant control options, including a touch screen and a d-pad.

“Depending on the game, there are ones where you can play perfectly well with a touch panel,” Hirai said. “But you can definitely play immersive games better with physical buttons and pads. I think there could be games where you’re able to use both in combination.”

A little-known system called the Nintendo DS has already tried to utilize a combination of touchscreen and d-pad controls. It worked, sometimes. Snark aside, Hirai hit on a very important point in his interview: So far, iOS devices can only control games through virtual d-pads, which often yield less-than-accurate results in the heat of an epic boss battle. Nintendo and Sony have targeted Apple’s soft underbelly by offering players both tactile and virtual controls with the 3DS and PSP 2. Though, if the rumors are true about the PSP 2 having a touch screen situated on its rear end, we’ll have to wait and see if Sony has a true innovation on its hands, or just a pain in the backside.

Offhand, watching Apple, Sony, and Nintendo go to war over their handhelds’ control schemes might seem a bit duller than watching the companies fight over processing power, graphics, and other flashy stuff. But it goes to show how a console’s power means nothing if its controller is a mess: Look at the Atari 5200’s non-centering joystick, which still garners ridicule two decades later, or even the original Xbox’s controller, which was as pleasant to grip as an oiled potato until Microsoft quickly engineered an alternative.

Hirai is right: Touchscreens put us one step closer to the games we play, but there are times when nothing can top the time-tested tradition of the plastic d-pad. Sony and Nintendo’s war against the iPhone’s virtual d-pad may not seem exciting, but it’s probably going to be very effective.

About Nadia Oxford
Nadia is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She played her first game at four, decided games were awesome, and has maintained her position since. She writes for 1UP.com, Slide to Play, GamePro and other publications, and is About.com’s Guide to the Nintendo DS.

2 Comments

  1. you mean nothing can top the analog stick?

  2. Nadia Oxford

    The d-pad/analogue stick/tactile controls in general. Different strokes, of course, but the virtual d-pads provided by iOS-based games are usually lacking. Ever play an adventure game and suddenly find out the hard way that your thumb has slipped off the d-pad completely and left you at the mercy of enemies?

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