Talking Point: Could Apps Transform Vita's Fortunes?
Posted by Damien McFerran
Or are they an unnecessary distraction from the console's primary function?
As much as it pains us to admit it, the PlayStation Vita isn't in the best shape at present. The console is struggling to convince players that it is worth its lofty price point, and rivals such as Nintendo's 3DS and smartphone platforms like iOS and Android are stealing away precious market share. Having already ruled out a price cut to stimulate dismal sales - the exact same course of action Nintendo took when the 3DS was faltering - Sony is clearly hoping that forthcoming gaming software will provide the tonic the console badly needs.
However, the company could well be missing a trick when it comes to pushing the Vita. Like it or not, the console is competing directly with the likes of the iPhone and iPad, devices which are multi-talented rather than game-centric; they don't just run entertainment software, but also allow you to browse the web, send emails, view family photos, make video calls, listen to music and download applications.
The Vita can do most of these things too, but Sony has done a less than stellar job of promoting this element of the system. It's understandable, given the hostility hardcore players tend to show towards consoles which stray too far away from the core gaming ethos - it's been argued that the Sony's obsession with making the PlayStation 3 the centrepiece of your living room was the reason for its shaky start in the marketplace. Still, if the company could convince people to put down their tablets and phones and pick up a Vita - a system which could potentially offer all the same benefits but with vastly superior graphics and proper gaming controls - then Sony could be onto a winner.
There's clearly a market space for this kind of system - the recent announcement of the Archos GamePad only confirms this - but Sony has to make sure people are aware of just how versatile the Vita is. Apps like Twitter, YouTube, Skype, Facebook and FourSquare are a good start, but there needs to be a real drive to attract iOS and Android app developers into bringing their products to Vita.
Imagine a situation where Vita has all the key apps - such as Spotify, Instagram and countless others. If these products can be made to function as well as they do on the iPad, then the Vita is suddenly transformed from a portable games console to a 'carry-everywhere' piece of consumer electronics; should that situation arise, then it could essentially replace the iPad in the lives of millions of people.
Of course, Sony should never lose sight of why they made the Vita in the first place: to host amazing games. That should always be the console's reason for being, no matter how much support it gets from app developers in the future. A situation where the system was turned into nothing but a glorified tablet replacement simply wouldn't do; it would merely become yet another piece of hardware for you to lug around, in addition to your phone, MP3 player, tablet or eBook reader. That is unlikely to endear the Vita to anyone, be they casual user or devoted gaming enthusiast.
The console needs to become the best option for a whole host of functions, rather than a Jack of all trades, master of none. It needs to be the first thing you reach for when you're about to leave the house, rather than an optional extra. Sadly, it's not going to become that just by relying on its gaming credentials - at least not in today's market, anyway.
While we hope that gaming will always remain the central focus of the Vita, it's clear that the system needs to offer something really special to catch up with the 3DS and stave off the attentions of the smartphone brigade. A more comprehensive selection of applications could well be the key to unlocking the Vita's true sales potential.