Sony's PlayStation Portable has had a few tweaks and adjustments throughout its life, and if we can trust a new rumor, then it's about to undergo a radical design overhaul. If it ditches the proprietary UMD drive, as is speculated, the PSP may get a new lease on life in the handheld gaming market.
Despite Sony's dominance of the gaming console market with its PS and PS2, the PSP never quite took off in the same way. It garnered around 30% of the handheld market in 2005, but the lion's share has always been in Nintendo's hands, with its various DS devices. Sony tried to update the PSP a couple of times, but the most recent "PSP-3000" version suffered from bad press when its supposedly better display tech turned out to deliver below-par results.
Part of the PSPs problems center on its use of Sony's proprietary storage system: the UMD, a mini optical disk for distributing games and movies for the platform. This turned out to be a bad move for Sony and the PSP. The disks, though small, are still clunky, and carrying more than a couple around with the PSP is a pain. The spinning of the optical drive also ate into the PSPs battery life. And finally, who would want to buy a movie on a format that you can only use in one handheld machine?
The PSPs secondary problem was piracy--it ran so rampant that it scared away developers, and even Sony itself admitted that a "huge chunk" of PSP software sales had been lost due to pirate activity.
But now there are strong rumors about a new PSP, potentially labeled the "PSP Go." And it sounds like such a radical overhaul that it makes the PSP almost look like a new machine. For starters, the UMD is gone--the idea is that games will be downloaded wirelessly over a network from Sony's own games store. Secondly, it's been redesigned into a slider device, with the gaming controls hidden away until you need them. That would allow Sony to reposition the PSP as a much more "multi-use" gizmo--it looks more like a conventional portable media player, and watching movies on it could be a lot more satisfying. The change should also make the device a little smaller, making it more pocket-friendly like an MP3 player. It's also rumored to have a touchscreen and a camera, which could position it more as a PDA, with perhaps VOIP telephony functions--and you can imagine the camera being used to insert your photo into games themselves.
In short, if 1UP--the source of this rumor--is correct, then when the PSP Go hits shops in October/November, it may just be the ticket to get the PSP back into handheld gamer's hearts--and hands.