When word of a PlayStation phone surfaced, the eyes of mobile gamers the world over lit up. The potential of navigating Solid Snake through Shadow Moses all over again on your morning commute or taking a Dodge Viper around Autumn Ring in Gran Turismo on a device that fits in your pocket was an exciting prospect.
The culmination of this idea arrived as the Sony Ericsson Xperia PLAY, which finally materialized in February 2011 and began its rollout in selected regions from April. Despite initial uncertainty from prospective buyers, Sony Ericsson spent a lot of time, effort and money, making sure people saw the PLAY as both a solid mobile gaming device as well as a capable mobile phone.
The Xperia PLAY stood as the entryway for a lot of successful Android games like Minecraft: Pocket Edition and FIFA which were initially exclusive to the device. Just over one year on from launch and Sony has managed to bring over 300 titles to the PLAY which make use of its unique hardware controls. Add to this its position as the first PlayStation certified phone and the fact it’ able to run original PlayStation titles like Crash Bandicoot and for a certain type of user, Sony have made it a rather attractive package.
So where has Sony gone wrong? Android Ice Cream Sandwich is the latest build of Google’s mobile OS and currently, OEMs are in the midst of rollouts as they bring this latest version to last year’s product portfolio. This includes Sony who has steadily been updating any 2011 phones bearing the Xperia name.
The PLAY even featured on an initial update roadmap but now Sony has confirmed the Xperia Play won't be getting ICS. It was a losing battle that Sony realised it couldn’t fight. Despite efforts to develop a viable means of creating an enjoyable ICS experience, the PLAY’s hardware isn’t up to the task. Due to a breakdown in the user experience and issues with game development on the beta ROM, Sony pulled the plug.
Like pulling a stool out from beneath someone’s feet, this news sent the PLAY’s popularity tumbling. Anger and hatred for the company has arisen from consumers who were led to believe that the Xperia PLAY was the device to own for mobile gamers at the cutting edge. What makes the sting all the more potent is that US users only gained access to the PLAY in September and a 24 month contract for a device locked into Gingerbread, is not a prospect many users will be able to swallow.
We reached out to Sony who explained to us just it made the decision. The official stance of the company is that they weren’t prepared to "compromise on the user experience" for the sake of an upgraded OS. A beta version of ICS is available, but it's not going to officially launched.
When HTC announced the Desire wouldn't be getting the upgrade to Gingerbread, anger and disappointment from owners led the company to reluctantly push out a modified Gingerbread update for the Desire - despite claims that it was unsuitable for the device and would compromise the user experience.
Could Sony do this? The beta is out there anyway. It would at least be something for the fans who have invested time and money in the Xperia Play. Is the user experience that bad - or just not perfect? Shouldn't fans at least be given the choice?
Sony assured us that they always listen to customer feedback, but it would seem that sometimes the customer doesn’t always know what’s best. The PLAY is a great device in its current form, especially with the library of titles now at users fingertips, but it’s just as easy to see why so many users aren’t happy to settle for a device running what could be considered, second best.