Will the next PSP upgrades be Sony’s answer to Origami?

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Will the next PSP upgrades be Sony's answer to Origami?

Tokyo (Japan) – News of the delay of Sony’s much-anticipated PlayStation 3 platform on Wednesday effectively drowned out some other revelations made by computer entertainment division president Ken Kutaragi, that might otherwise have commanded the spotlight. One such revelation is that a wave of new PlayStation Portable upgrades, including peripheral attachments and – perhaps everyone’s favorite – a lowered price, could quickly adapt the popular component into a convincing competitor to Microsoft’s and Intel’s just-announced UMPC platform, announced last week.

Leading the way this fall will be a pair of attachments that can collectively convert the PSP into a digital camera, voice-over-IP conferencing station, and a GPS navigation system. WiFi connectivity with Web browsing has already been added to the component, as part of the PSP’s version 2.x firmware upgrades, which were rolled out last October. Now, with the PSP-300 “EyeToy” attachment on-board, the PSP can effectively become a semi-portable communications device, at least within the vicinity of one’s home or, with a little ingenuity in both the technical and social departments, a campus. Video e-mail becomes a possibility, as well as video podcasts, presumably to be distributed through Sony’s network, perhaps among others.

What isn’t clear at present (no photographs appear to be available) is the degree to which standards will be employed in the conferencing process. Will PSP users be able to do VoIP conferences with PC users, and if so, which software will they have to use? Or will this just be a clever walkie-talkie for the PSP crowd? Amid Kutaragi’s apologetic mood Wednesday, on account of the PS3 delay, many details weren’t made clear – in fact, it appears Sony’s own PR has been relying on independent press reports to determine the extent of what Kutaragi himself said. But had the mood been just a bit brighter, perhaps both Sony and its press followers would have drawn an association between the already successful PSP platform expanding into the more practical realm, and the UMPC platform, which has been the victim of some merciless analysis in the week since its introduction.

With the US suggested retail price of PSP dropping to $199.99 this upcoming Wednesday, the as-yet-unannounced prices of the PSP-300 camera/VoIP attachment and the PSP-290 GPS receiver would have to be astronomical to forge the price gulf between the PSP platform and the $900 average price for similarly equipped UMPC devices available this year. So what would the differences be, to justify the UMPC’s apparent price premium?

Microsoft would point out that the UMPC runs Windows…and quite possibly, so would Sony. The PSP lacks a keyboard, but then again, so do the UMPC devices we’ve seen thus far. The UMPC, however, has a touch-sensitive screen that utilizes Windows’ built-in handwriting input. By comparison, some PSP applications including the new Web browser utilize text input software using the joystick controls, which some users have likened to operating a cell phone by remote control. One intrepid group of engineers have actually developed a Web site which acts as its own virtual PSP keyboard, so browser users can perform a process slightly more similar to typing.

While Microsoft could argue that a PlayStation Portable is far from a fully functional PC, especially in terms of possibilities, Sony could come right back with the question, exactly what does a UMPC do? More to the point, can a UMPC play a great number of cool games? With emulation support for PlayStation 1 games being added to the PSP in a few months (another part of Kutaragi’s announcement Wednesday), along with support for Macromedia Flash-based games that have already taken off on the PC platform, some could argue that a PSP actually does more things – or will be able to shortly – that a general user would want a small device to do. And if the UMPC’s seemingly well-inspired two-handed controls aren’t for having a little fun once in a while, then some may rightly ask, just what are they for?