Sunday Thoughts: Mobile Future

I’ve got a feeling that this article may split opinion. I know that there’s a lot of love for home console systems, but looking at the current trends in technology we may be moving towards a future where these stationary behemoths go the way of the Dodo. Sony’s NGP is perhaps the biggest indication of this, but there’s a wide range of phones coming this year that look like they should be mobile powerhouses.

“But Kris!” I hear you cry. “We like playing games on the big TV in our living room!” Well of course you do, that’s a big part of gaming these days. The thing is, we stream media back and forth across our home networks almost constantly these days. It’s so common that it’s being built into TVs now. Why should the output from a portable console be any different? Just stream the content to the TV, hold it in your hands and play away.

If you’re not on board with that, perhaps you’d like to use a controller more similar to the DualShock 3 or the Xbox 360 controller. There’s no reason those couldn’t wirelessly connect to a portable console in the same way they do with home consoles, there are a few PSP titles that support this already. In fact if you’re doing this you could dock your phone or console in the same way you dock a laptop and send the output to the TV. I think you can see these are hardly revolutionary ideas, it’s just a case of applying already existing concepts in a new context.

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Of course where this concept could start to fail is with storage. If you fit the highest capacity compatible hard drive into a PS3 you’ve got over 600GB of storage. That’s a lot of films, music, games, saves etc… Sure you might have to clear some stuff off very occasionally, but realistically that’s a more than reasonable amount of storage for 99% of users. Now if you want to go portable you have an issue of physical size. Obviously you don’t want something anywhere near the size of the laptop hard drives being used by the PS3, you’d end up with a device a lot bigger than the PSP or 3DS.

There are obviously solutions in the way of flash media, the kind of storage used by pretty much all portable devices right now. The flash hard drives on the market right now are hardly huge, but if we take a quick look over at SD cards the SDXC format has a theoretical limit of 2TB of data on a card significantly smaller than a credit card. As far as I can see no-one’s producing them at that density quite yet, but they’re almost certainly on the way. Not only could you use these cards (or similar flash storage) for the device’s primary storage, but you’d have a physical media format that would keep retail partners happy.

Sadly where my concept of a mobile future falls down seems to be in battery technology. All the other areas I’ve mentioned here are either current technology that just needs a little adaptation, or is known to be on its way in the next few years. Sadly battery technology seems to be a little bit stagnant right now; that’s the reason you have to put your smartphone on charge every night. For the kind of device I’m proposing, one that could replace the need for a home console, it’d need some pretty powerful hardware. Obviously that’s a significant drain on a battery, if anyone remembers how little play time you got on a Game Gear when running it on AA batteries you’ll see the issue.

If someone manages to solve the battery issue, and I think someone will eventually, I honestly think this may well be the future. Then again I’m trying to play futurologist here, and that’s always a dangerous game. Knowing my luck I’ll probably be completely wrong.

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20 Comments

  1. good read, its fantastic how technology continues to develop, even writting this on my laptop is amazing, i have no idea how they do it. a laptop may feel old now but they have taken away the computer on a desk as we can browse and work while sitting nice and compfy with a cup of tea infront of the tv.

    i have an ipod touch which its fanstastic, instead of turning my computer or laptop on, its so quick and easy to use the internet, find the weather, check email, look at google maps or just listen to music or play. however, as you have mentioned the battery life is apuling and i find myself rechrging it everyday.

    but i think nothing will beat playing your ps3 with the lights off, full voloume on a 42 inch TV (or 3D if you are rich), theres something about that which poratble consoles and phones cant deliver.

    also i cant live without a phone, i find myself sending over 50 to 100 texts a day for completly pointless stuff. Today we have everything at are fingers tips and the answer can be found within seconds, its great for the future, but u never knkow Sky Net could happen.

  2. I dont think you are wrong what you are saying, but one big thing you did not address which is cost, having a small powerful gaming device with lots of storage will cost alot.

    • critising his article will cost you…..your life, JK :L

  3. This is all rather pie in the sky a moment, but eventually things could head that direction.

    BUT! I don’t think it will necessarily serve towards portables overtaking home consoles. You’ll often see people playing games on smart phones one their commute to work, but that’s something that’s in their pockets anyway. They’re much less likely to pull out a 3DS or and NGP and play those. Gaming in public is almost as taboo as nudity.

    And don’t forget that the NGP is still 5 years behind the PS3, as the PSP was behind the PS2. If the PS4 were to be announced today it would be hugely more powerful than the NGP is.

    Here’s the thing, though. The home consoles have sold close on 200 million units in the last 4 or 5 years. There’s no reason to abandon a market of that size as long as they can continue to try and expand it into the casual market as the Wii did.

    • Exactly you’ve hit it your final paragraph. Aside from Japan (where they’re obsessed with small gadgety things anyway) I dont think I’m wrong in saying that consoles outsell portables in the market.

      Personally, whilst fun in smaller chunks, portable gaming just cant provide the same experience as home gaming. I’m currently playing Dead Space 2 on my PS3, regardless of whether the NGP could produce the same graphics, I highly doubt the audio and level of immersion you get from a big HD screen snd gaming chair could be replicated on a portable.

  4. For gaming I like decent sized screens and clear stereo sound with a subwoofer, which I can’t get with a portable console.

    Although I could get some of those glasses which give the effect of looking at a 60 inch screen!

    But, i’m not going to wear Bulky Surround Headphones!

  5. I can definitely see a viable future for a handheld that streams to your HDTv but i think visually it will always be a little behind what you can get on a hame console.
    Also, handhelds are great for those who use public transport or get chauferred but i drive everywhere myself so a home console fit’s my lifestyle better.

  6. Hmmmm, I’m having trouble getting excited by this having been burnt with the whole PSP saga. It seemed like they put a lot of effort in at first then rapidly lost interest in keeping it going in any meaningful way. Yes, I know we got about 3 iterations and a ‘Go’ but can anyone list 5 A-list “Must have” titles that came out after GOW Chains of Olympus?

    The NGP does look impressive but will it be strong enough to hold its own over a 2-3 year lifespan or will it just be another useless techno brick in that time?

    • I worry theres no original IP that stands out in the PSP family that we couldnt play a better version of on the PS3.

      What Sony need is a mix of genuine portable IP (something akin to Pokemon on the DS) and some handheld spinoffs of the big PS3 franchises.

      I’m interested in thr NGP but I wont buy one just to play Uncharted on the go when I could play a better version at home.

  7. I’ve noticed a concurrent theme with some of your articles halbpro; namely the impending doom of one form of play or another. Single player and now home consoles. Personally I do not see the death of home consoles with the improvement in portable gaming, mainly because of playing habits. I tend to prefer a system such as NGP/PSP over the iphone because I prefer more in depth games even on journeys. But given the choice I’d much rather have my PS3 and wide screen TV when going for a long gaming session. Handhelds are getting good. But they are, and for me always will be just a compliment to the experience offered by their older siblings.

    • Sorry, this wasn’t meant to be quite as doomy but I did notice it.

      • hey I’m not saying it’s a bad thing! Your articles are valid ways of looking at the market and possible ways it could go from how it is today.

  8. It is quite amazing to be viewing and commenting on this through my smartphone while I’m out and about, without the need for laptops, wires, broadband or being at home. Technology is getting better all the time and although I don’t see the home console being replaced all together, I can see a future where mobile devices are more integrated with home devices. Maybe we will all eventually have one box that incoperates everything, Sky +, blu ray, gaming, amplifyer etc. Although that would create a major brand fight.
    Portables are certainly going to get better.

  9. the death of home consoles.

    simple answer.

    NO.

  10. I had been thinking about this recently when they showed about porting PS3 games to the NGP very quickly, and contemplated the idea of a cross between a portable console and a home console.

    What if you had your portable console, playing games happily etc like you would do now, but then when you get home it docks into a machine by your TV, which has additional hardware in it which it interacts with to produce better graphics, and essentially makes it a standard home console? So when you wanna game on the move, you just grab it and you’re gone, and when you’re home, dock it and carry on but with better graphics suitable for your TV, rather than just using a component out cable like you get for the PSP now, as they look stretched on TVs when I’ve seen it.

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