Sony May Have Some Surprises in Store for PlayStation Fans
Sony is on quite a roll of late. It launched the PlayStation 5 console late last year in most of the world including the U.S., Japan, and EU territories (although the US got it a week earlier). If you are a gamer and follow major game launches you may know that this was not always the case, where a console launched worldwide so close to a single date. You may remember a time in the 16-bit and 32-bit generation of consoles where systems would sometimes launch a year ahead of time in a region like Japan, before being made available to the rest of the world.
This is Sony’s flagship product and a gaming system loved the world over. It has also been very hard to find, as stores around the world are running out of stock as soon as stock arrives (due to not just demand it seems, but also a trade war). This is good news for Sony as it looks to have another major success on its hands.
Peeking behind the curtain
This brings me to my next point, which is what we should expect from Sony going forward with the PlayStation lineup of products and others it has in the pipeline. I recently tuned in to a Facebook discussion and interview that occurred last Tuesday, Feb. 9, between Tonino Greco, the Chief Analyst at Sony Technology Partnerships Europe and Corporate Technology Strategy division, conducted with Netguru’s Filip Sobiecki. One can still watch the interview via Netguru’s Facebook page here.
The interview was interesting because Greco went into many aspects of Sony’s operational focus and also gave some hints on future products or disruptions we may expect from the Japanese giant.
“Nothing gets in and nothing gets out in terms of information,” he said, thus not directly revealing anything. Greco basically answered with a bunch of possibilities or maybes. However, if one watches his descriptions of certain technologies, it is possible to come to the conclusion he was describing products and services he is working with that are in production right now.
Naturally, Sony is looking for value to its customers, looking to answer the question of will this product be cheaper, faster, or better in some ways than other products on the market. They are also looking for the “wow factor”, he said, how to wow people to get them to purchase a product over the competitor’s offerings.
They look at whom they are dealing with or who they want to present a certain technology to before finding this wow factor and ways to give value to this type of customer.
Right from the get-go, he was asked if he could tell us anything about the next PlayStation, presumably the 6th such system. He said that he would not be able to talk about it even if he knew anything, but revealed that the PlayStation product cycle of development is roughly seven years.
This may seem odd as Sony tends to support their consoles for a decade if not longer, but one can assume he was talking about the actual time the consoles are in development, from concept until finalized versions, not actual market production time.
Greco also quickly alluded to new things being in store for gamers within the PlayStation division in the coming years particularly when it comes to virtual reality (VR). He also mentioned possibly something to do with augmented reality (AR) and possibly a handheld. A successor to the Vita is a dream for many in the Sony ecosystem, even though Sony largely, and strangely, did its best to ignore their most advanced handheld system throughout its life cycle. It maintains a cult following to this day, known throughout the land as Vita Island, and a new portable offering would garner huge interest.
VR was a strong focus of the interview as he kept alluding to new innovations happening soon within this field related to the PlayStation. He claimed that it is not just about a technically superior head-mounted display (HMD) with more pixels and less tethering available (if not completely without the wire), but about full immersion. By full immersion, he alluded to possible things like the skin or body feeling aspects of the VR experience in addition to just the eyes or the visual aspect.
“Current version solutions not just at Sony [on the market as a whole] are not fully immersive,” he emphasized. “The more sensors you put in the more interactions you can nail…like cameras or gyroscopes the more interactions with your surroundings you can have. The ultimate experience is also with skin or feeling.”
This pretty much is telling us we should not just expect an upgraded PS4 VR experience with what Sony has in store for PS5 VR in the coming future. Controllers may either be redesigned entirely for the experience or be not used at all in favor of skin or the hands alone.
The business side of games
Greco also went pretty heavily into describing the way Sony works with other companies or startups and even pours money into universities to find new talent through initiatives.
“Sometimes you may be surprised by the ideas outsiders can have and you can bring them in contact [with Sony staff or execs] and something amazing can happen,” Greco said.
His team looks at the very early stages of a company, like a startup forming or even before it forms, as well as ideas presented at the university level. Sony wants to be the first to have access to an interesting or disruptive technology in which it sees potential. The company could then guide or direct this group to what they would like them to work or focus on if possible, as it would fall in line with what they are looking for in the long term.
Sony Innovation Fund is something he mentioned that is used by the company to invest in startups and finds such partnerships. There is also something he talked about called the Sony Research Award Program.
“We finance research at universities to work on specific topics,” Greco said. “Hopefully out of this research, maybe a startup can form or we can install a strategic partnership at the university.”
Greco has a history of researching and working with semiconductor technology, and part of the reason he ended up at Sony was thrugh this work and experience. He also emphasized how important this type of work is for Sony going forward with product designs.
A completely flat architecture can be made or new form factors can be created, allowing products to be smaller following advances in semiconductor technology. He mentioned metamaterial, with semi-conductors as part of this research and development, particularly in acoustic metamaterial.
“You can in principle hide objects by cloaking them,” he said. “If a sound wave hits an object it doesn’t reflect the sound wave for instance.”
Some of this stuff is hard to grasp for a layperson or someone like me not familiar with this technology, but it does sound mind-boggling and worth keeping an eye out for in the future.
Greco also mentioned Sony being on the hunt for environmentally friendly materials and innovations, always a smart investment in a time where climate change is a topic of growing importance.
Overall this was a surprisingly interesting talk and a way to delve into the mind of someone working with innovations at Sony directly and within the PlayStation division among others. It also made me realie how Sony is not much different from the Googles or Apples out there in terms of hunting for talent and working with startups despite the company being often seen as this big corporate giant that is set in its ways.
It will be interesting to see if he truly was referring to a Vita successor being developed or he simply used that as an example to prove his point that Sony is always looking into new product ideas. I have a feeling though that he was letting his tounge slip a bit and this may be the first leak or story into mentioning such a handheld previously dismissed as a possibility in the near future.