As a journalist who covers video games for a living, I have a whole lot of different platforms on which I play games. Currently, I game on my iPad, Galaxy Nexus, 3DS, Wii, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, and over Black Friday I bought a PS Vita. Those aren't even all the platforms I own, but rather the ones that still get use.
I wish some brilliant company would consolidate my gaming experience. Sony attempted to do just that with the Xperia Play, an Android phone with a slide-out physical control scheme. But it was underpowered, and it could play only a select few PlayStation-branded games.
Is Vita the answer?
Now that I've been messing around with this PS Vita, I see the true potential of the idea Sony had with the Xperia Play. The Vita, in case you don’t know, is a dedicated mobile gaming device with a touchscreen and a traditional physical control scheme, that is nearly as powerful as a PlayStation 3.
But that touchscreen is going to waste, as right now it only adds swipe features to console-style games that don't really need them, aside from the fact that in some cases they are compensating for having two fewer physical buttons than a PS3 controller. It is a great idea to include a touchscreen on a dedicated mobile gaming device. Just brilliant. But touchscreen controls are not a novelty. Hundreds of developers have created thousands of games specifically for touchscreens. There is an enormous library of games made for devices exactly like this.
What drew me to the Vita, though, is that it has games you can't play on home consoles that feel like AAA-quality games. And they charge not-cheap prices for them, as the typical retail Vita title will run you about $40. And, despite my inexpensive mobile gaming habits, I'm fine with that. It's not as if I can play a full-fledged Assassin's Creed, Uncharted or Call of Duty game on my phone.
But why can't I? The answer is simple: touchscreen-only controls don't provide the fidelity necessary to make those games feel natural to play. We need physical controls for them.
A true mobile option
And, with that, I'm wondering why the PS Vita isn't also a phone running on Android. Can you imagine having one mobile device that allows you access to Google Play, a bunch of more expensive console-quality games and all the features of a phone? Such a phone might lead to the end of days, but it would also be wonderful. That device would be a must-buy for any serious gamer, and it would be a crossover device that would expose home gamers to the mobile experience and vise versa.
What is strange is that there exists a 3G model of the Vita, and there are dedicated mobile apps built for it (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.). I get that there are people who would like to play Call of Duty matches while riding on the bus, but it seems obvious that if you're going to go this route you might as well go one step further and turn the thing into a phone.
Sony would argue that adding smartphone functionality would be cost-prohibitive, but high-end phones already retail for more than twice the price of a Vita. Charging the same price as the base model Vita ($249) with a new phone service contract doesn't seem like that outlandish an idea to me.
This is my dream: a mobile device that allows me to play all my cheap mobile games as well as the high quality AAA games that normal phones don't support. I sincerely doubt that the target audience for such a device would be put off by its relatively large size -- really, it wouldn't be all that much larger than a Galaxy Note II, anyway -- and certainly more people would buy it than the three million who have picked up a Vita since its launch in February.
As it is, I am already going to have to carry around both my Galaxy Nexus and my Vita. But, really, there is no need for that. In an ideal world, I will have a Vita-like device that meets all my mobile needs, both in gaming and otherwise. Figure it out, rich corporations.