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Touch Screen, UMD-free, PSP2 - experts claim

... but UMD safe for now. Industry experts predict future of Sony's handheld.

Sony's PSP2 will feature a touch-screen, with UMD's ditched in favour of internal flash memory game downloads and improved PS3 link-up - predicts a panel of industry experts recently polled by PSM3. "What Sony needs to do now is ride it (PSP) out until their next portable machine and try for a restart", reveals respected technology journal Wired's Chris Kohler, "Maybe add a touch screen. That's certainly an excellent time to get rid of UMD."

UMD, however, is safe for now, predicts Kohler - and the recent PSP price drop may mean an influx of new games. "The PSP, like most consumer devices that undergo a price drop, is selling substantially better than it was before it was $170. As shown at CES,Sony's focus would now seem to be the transformation of PSP into an all-in-one fun productivity gadget with various add-ons and firmware updates, which might keep things moving along at an acceptable pace."

"But this growth might also actually stimulate some software development, which went off a cliff at some point last year. But in terms of cheaper casual titles - no more big-budget flops. They've gotten burned with those and the feeling won't go away during PSP's lifecycle. PSP in its current form won't get any more major operations, like the excising of UMD that people seem to be in a tizzy predicting. That can't happen."

UMD has a deeper strategic value at retail, argues leading development website Gamasutra's Senior Editor Brandon Sheffield. "Though the UMD format hasn't exactly caught on, it gives Sony more shelf-space, something they might be keen to keep up with Nintendo (DS) encroaching on their space". Sheffield is unperturbed by Sony's recent announcement that Blu-ray discs will come bundled with a PSP version of the film. "As far as Blu-ray content, I don't think that will contribute to phasing out UMDs until such time as the PS3 installed base is proved to be as large as or larger than the UMD movie-buying population - and that those groups are similar and have similar purchasing habits."

"I do however thing that Blu-Ray-to-PSP is a much more enticing proposition than buying UMDs separately, for a host of obvious reasons - not the least of which is the allure of effectively buying one movie for two formats. I think consumers will like it, and I'm sure Sony has built in some online reporting system to the PS3 that allows them to see if customers are making use of the service."

A flash-based PSP2, which lets you download games to internal memory, is only a matter of time, asserts Sheffield. "Sony doesn't want to anger retailers, but why should they care so much anyway? More and more people buy even physical hardware online, and the retailers that had a booming year just recently did so because of used game sales, which don't benefit the industry at all. Regardless, a PSP with a flash drive just makes sense, what with the ability to download PSone games to it, and all of that. The pitfalls are piracy, which may increase (and is already rampant), and retail anger. I think it's coming though."

Industry veteran, and respected developer, Dave Perry (of Earthworm Jim and Enter the Matrix fame), is also convinved UMD will die, and that PSP2 (or even PSP3) has the opportunity to clean up the opposition. "I've been publicly flogging the UMD drive for a long time, it's useless in a digital world. Would Apple put a UMD drive in the PSP if they designed it? Not in a million bloody years. So I'm operating on the "3rd time's a charm" concept, Sony will get the PSP right on attempt number 3. (My fingers are crossed right now.)"

Perry thinks Nintendo's slowly-does-it approach to DS updates presents Sony with a key opportunity. "Nintendo is in super-slow iteration mode on the Gameboy, one minor step at a time has been their history, the next rumor is (yawn) that both screens are touch sensitive. Well that's just great. That means that Sony can leave them for dead as when Nintendo gets around to coming up with a digital store it will likely be just as poor an attempt as the one they built for the Wii."

"So Sony needs to get the pedal to the metal, they have no competition. Go buy the new iPod touch from Apple, they REMOVED the option to download games into it! This is even better for Sony. Nintendo is moving at 2 miles an hour and Apple pulled out!"

Perry thinks PSP is central to Sony's fortunes. "I LOVE the PSP, I think it's crucial to the future of Sony to make the device that owns the handheld markets. They have everything they need to make this happen, it's really down to just making the right decisions, making the right (modern) device, with slightly more power (PS2, not PS1.something), (without a stupid TV tuner) and getting the price as low as it can possibly go."

To read more industry predictions about PSP2, and how PS3 will evolve in tandem, check out PSM3#98, on-sale 14th February in all leading UK newsagents