TOKYO — Sony will start selling a new hand-held game device by the end of the year and will offer its PlayStation games on a range of portable devices, including smartphones, the company said on Thursday.
Sony, the Japanese electronics and entertainment company, is fighting to hold its ground in a market being transformed by longtime rivals, like Nintendo, and those beyond the traditional game world, like Apple, whose iPhone has fast become the most popular device for casual, downloadable games.
Sony’s new device, code-named NGP for Next Generation Portable, comes packed with new-generation technology: with a touch pad on the front and rear — a first for a game device — a 5-inch LED screen, two sets of button controls, motion sensors, cameras on the front and back and 3G network access. The console will also use a new proprietary memory card designed to thwart piracy. By the end of the year, Sony will also make some PlayStation games available on certified portable devices, including smartphones running Google’s Android operating system, the company’s game chief, Kazuo Hirai, announced Thursday in Tokyo.
A new software platform, PlayStation Suite, will essentially act like Apple’s App store, allowing users of various devices to download PlayStation games, Mr. Hirai said. Sony also hopes to attract independent developers to make games for the platform, he said.
“It is Sony’s first cross-platform endeavor,” said Mr. Hirai, who is president of Sony Computer Entertainment, Sony’s game arm. “The possibilities to produce new kinds of entertainment are endless.”
But Sony did not display its own PlayStation phone, despite rumors and photos of mockups that have circulated on the Internet in recent months. It also did not disclose details like prices or specific release dates for the phone.
When they go on sale, the NGP and the PlayStation phones will face stiff competition.
In February, Nintendo plans to introduce in Japan the 3DS, the next model in its popular DS line of portable game players.
Since they were introduced in 2004, DS devices have outsold Sony’s PlayStation Portable models by more than two to one: 135 million units compared with 62 million units as of September. The 3DS, which can display 3-D graphics without glasses, is in a “category of one,” Nintendo’s chief executive for the United States, Reggie Fils-Aime, said last week. It will go on sale in the United States in March.
But Nintendo and Sony are up against perhaps even bigger rivals: low-cost, casual games downloaded onto iPhones, iPod Touches and Android devices, a market that has grown rapidly.
Mr. Hirai said that the NGP had been created for players still interested in deeper, more sophisticated play, while a PlayStation phone would be for the new, growing ranks of casual players.
“Times have changed, from an era where you had to carry around a dedicated gaming device like the PlayStation Portable to play games on the go,” Mr. Hirai said. “Now you can enjoy casual games on cellphones, smartphones, tablet PCs and many other multifunctional portable devices, and these casual gamers are growing rapidly in number. Sony cannot ignore this growing market.
“On the other hand, I feel it is Sony’s mission to pursue and expand the market for the kind of gaming that PlayStation has long built up — the kind of ultimate portable gaming device that brings you more engaging games.”
Price will be a major factor in whether the game console will take off, analysts say. It is all too often the Achilles’ heel for Sony products, crammed with the latest technology but at a hefty price to match.
Mr. Hirai said Sony was well aware of the importance of pricing the console competitively.
“We made sure that as we were designing the hardware, we were always cognizant of the cost involved,” he said. “That’s something that we spent a lot of time on, to make sure we don’t go off the deep end.”
In a sense, Sony also realized early that some consumers would move toward multi-purpose devices from dedicated game gadgets. When Sony introduced the first PlayStation Portable in 2004, it described it as an all-in-one portable entertainment platform that would become “the Walkman of the 21st century.”
“As it turned out, the next Walkman was the iPod,” said Nick Gibson, a game analyst at Games Investor Consulting, a research company based in London. “But I think Sony has now learned what works, and what doesn’t.”