Breaking Down The Vita – What If?

Something has been bugging me after listening to your a-typical troll this evening.

This thought was brought about by the idea that the 3DS may get a cost-effective/efficient redesign in the next 12 months. I argued that’s par for the course these days in the handheld/mobile industry, after all, it’s largely what keeps Apple in business. Nintendo aren’t doing anything that Sony, Apple, Motorola, Samsung et al haven’t been doing for years. The Vita, in its first 18-24 months, will be no different I’ll wager, and will see a console redesign at some stage in this time.

But it occurred to me that the Vita has one problem; it’s being sold at a loss.

This made me think very carefully; considering Sony are making quite harsh losses right now, they’re pinning an awful lot on the Vita; they’re banking on this really getting full market penetration over Nintendo, which when you consider the 3DS is now less than half the price of a Vita is quite a LARGE ask. Even if they get the sales they want, the sad truth of the Vita is that if they can’t stop hemorrhaging money, Sony may have to redesign the Vita not to add, but to take away and make the unit cheaper to produce.

So what COULD they get away with stripping OUT of the Vita?

Well, a quick glance at the technical specs of the Vita throw up a few candidates;

1) The rear touch panel. This is a luxury and, after much thought, I’ve got to admit I’m not 100% sure how this really benefits any games already announced. I’ve heard lots of stuff about slicker camera control, panning and zooming but isn’t that traditionally what the right analog stick is used for?

My point is, this is a luxury that is, I genuinely believe, Sony showing off. “We can stick a touch screen on the BACK of the machine!”. That’s great, but unless it’s adding anything really, truly specific and meaningful, it’s an expensive waste of manufacturing and parts costs that Sony probably should have kept under control. The front mounted 5-inch OLED Touchscreen interface is more than ample for a handheld these days.

2) The 3G and GPS. Since they are in the same unit. This costs £50 extra and what do you get for your money? Bluetooth connectivity that is known to be a power drain on the internal battery. Wifi is still more popular than 3G for a fairly good reason – it’s tried, tested and available more or less anywhere, whereas 3G… well… isn’t. As for GPS – I’m not entirely sure why you’d want it in your Vita. Sure I have a GPS-enabled phone, but hell, I walk and ramble. I wouldn’t take my Vita on a hike – for a start, it’d be harder to call for help should things go bad…

3) Six-Axis. Oh give it up Sony, that system failed and failed hard. Nintendo have proven that it is no improvement upon a simple (and much cheaper) gyroscope. It’s a bit like trying to improve on the wheel – you just end up making a much more expensive wheel really, which does little to no more than a normal wheel.

Personally, I think these are unnecessary additions to the Vita. In much the same way I’ll say the 3D is unnecessary in the 3DS. I’m not biased on this one, the 3D on the 3DS too often hurts my eyes and I generally turn it off because of that – but I get a bit more battery life from it as a result, so there’s a plus point to why the 3D is a bit silly.

I genuinely believe Nintendo would be wise to drop the 3D from the 3DS, and relaunch the system as the DS2. Easy as that, especially if an extensive control redesign is called for. It limits the damage, doesn’t adversely or dramatically alter the costs involved and may even be a PR coup – if you believe that people can’t tell the 3DS is the successor to the DS.

But in much the same way, I think Sony really are trying to hard here and have blown an awfully large amount of money on a handheld that, quite frankly, has features I can’t see the majority of games or users actually using with any frequency. Fingers slip, which makes a touch panel at the back a particularly frustrating elephant in the corner. People won’t be tracking their positions via GPS. The power-hogging 3G and Bluetooth aren’t widely used and could rather safely and quietly be dropped. The Six-Axis, a glorified gyroscope, could be replaced with an equally efficient and cheaper alternative.

I know people will shout me down saying “BUT I WANT ALL THE SEXY TECH!” and I totally understand that. You’re on a blog about games, gadgets and tech. I love sexy tech too, really, I adore it.

But as much as I adore it, I can’t help but notice Sony are in real trouble financially. And as a responsible consumer, one does have to ask the question if Sony are trying to do too much with money they simply don’t have in reserve. They could do a Vita with slightly less tech and charge £250 and I’m sure most people would STILL buy it.

This isn’t about saying the Vita will be rubbish – it’s saying that Sony may need to get their house in order before they start throwing all this next-gen tech around with such reckless abandon for their own well being. With a PS4 announcement suspected at E3 in June (and the mammoth cost of R&D), this is simply money Sony can’t afford to keep throwing away.

Every year Sony posts a loss now, they will inch closer and closer to disaster. Finance agreements will cost them a lot more. They won’t be able to afford certain things, and may have to outsource certain things – like your English-based support team? Or would you maybe prefer a cheaper call center in India? It’s things like that which could really damage the credibility of Sony.

I like the Vita. I have one coming. But I do so knowing, deep inside, that most of us already know this is worth at least £100 more than we’re being charged. Loss leading may be a tactic Sony have often used…

I can’t escape this feeling right now, it’s a tactic they may regret…

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