Sony chief hints PSP with touch screen on the way

Sony Computer Entertainment chief Kaz Hirai indicates that the next PlayStation Portable could have both a touch screen and traditional buttons.

Don Reisinger
CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
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What will the next PSP look like?
What will the next PSP look like? Sony

Sony's PlayStation Portable could be in for a serious makeover.

Speaking to The New York Times yesterday, Sony Computer Entertainment chief Kaz Hirai said that the next PSP could boast both a touch screen and conventional controls to give casual and hard-core gamers the opportunity to play titles in a way they prefer.

"Depending on the game, there are ones where you can play perfectly well with a touch panel," Hirai told the Times. "But you can definitely play immersive games better with physical buttons and pads. I think there could be games where you're able to use both in combination."

Hirai acknowledged that the portable gaming space is changing, which could prompt Sony to offer more than just physical controls. He told the Times that his company is "seeing people who never had an interest in games join the gaming population."

A key reason for that change has been the popularity of mobile apps, like Rovio's Angry Birds, which have captivated smartphone owners around the globe. Earlier this month, Rovio announced that Angry Birds has been downloaded 50 million times. The game is played 200 million minutes each day around the world.

But the popularity of smartphone-based games is nothing new.

Earlier this year, Flurry Analytics revealed that through 2009, Apple's iOS market share in the portable gaming space increased to 19 percent, up from the 5 percent market share it captured through 2008. Sony's PlayStation Portable, on the other hand, saw its market share decline between 2008 and 2009 from 20 percent to 11 percent.

Through 2010, the PSP's performance has been similarly bleak. Last month, video game retailer GameStop reported that PSP sales have been "a disappointment." In August, the last month NPD reported hardware sales figures, Sony sold just 79,400 PSP units. That figure was down 43 percent from the 140,300 it sold in August 2009.

Whether a touch screen can help boost PSP sales remains to be seen. But Hirai's comments seem to fall in line with previous reports claiming the PSP2 would boast both a touch screen and physical buttons. That rumored device is expected to hit store shelves at some point in 2011.