BARCELONA—Sony Ericsson saved the best for last at its press event Sunday night when it unveiled the new Xperia Play smartphone and said Verizon Wireless will start carrying the device in early spring.
Sony Ericsson traditionally has used the eve of Mobile World Congress to hold a press conference, but this year, Steve Walker, head of marketing, didn’t disappoint when he suggested at the outset that this year would be bigger than usual.
The news of Verizon as a carrier at launch is particularly good for Sony Ericsson, which is trying to raise its U.S. profile and historically so often offered its gadgets first to overseas consumers. It will have to go up against the iPhone at Verizon, of course, but in its corner, it’s got the PlayStation certification and game controls on the device that gamers are familiar with. The slide-out game pad includes two buttons with the four PlayStation icons: circle, cross, square and triangle.
Rikko Sakaguchi, executive vice president and chief creation officer at Sony Ericsson, said the Xperia Play will “forever change the way people think about smartphones and mobile gaming.”
The Sony Ericsson joint venture between Sony and Ericsson was formed about 10 years ago, so one might wonder why it took so long to come up with a device so closely tied to PlayStation. Sakaguchi explained some of that, saying that creating such a device is more about planning and engineering; it requires long-term building of an entire ecosystem, and the whole environment needs to be ready. “It’s been quite a journey,” he said.
Sony Computer Entertainment and leading game publishers will provide top titles that will be available to download from the Android Market. Other gaming companies supporting the device at launch are EA, Gameloft and Glu Mobile. Unity Technologies is bringing 350,000 developers to the platform in the first time Unity has partnered with a handset OEM like Sony Ericsson. Being PlayStation certified also means the device will have access to PlayStation game content provided through the PlayStation Suite initiative due to launch by Sony later this year.
Sony Ericsson executives made a point to say the device meets all the qualities required of a high-end smartphone. Widely anticipated and teased during an advertisement during the Super Bowl, the Xperia Play is based on the latest in Android, Gingerbread 2.3.
It also includes Qualcomm’s optimized Snapdragon processor with a 1Ghz CPU and embedded Adreno GPU graphics processor. A spec sheet shows CDMA users can expect up to 7 hours and 40 minutes of talk time and up to five hours and 35 minutes of game play time.
Sony Ericsson also used the occasion to unveil the Xperia neo and Xperia pro, following on the launch of the Xperia arc smartphone at CES. The neo and pro also feature the latest Gingerbread version of Android. The neo will be available globally in selected markets at the end of the first quarter and the pro starting at the end of the second quarter.