New 'PSP Go!' to be unveiled at E3?

The Sony Playstation Portable (PSP) has bubbled to the top of the rumor mill again. We first heard about a new PSP from Acclaim's Chief Creative Officer David Perry back in February and then again from the Pocketgamer website earlier this month.

Today's rumor comes from 1Up and it basically reinforces the prior two: a new version of the PSP (potentially named "PSP Go!") with the UMD disk drive removed and a sliding touchscreen that will hide most of the controls. Pocketgamer suggested a 2nd analog 'nub' would be added, but 1Up says this is not the case (which is something of a disappointment). Two SKUs will be available, featuring either 8 or 16 gigs of internal memory.

The official announcement is supposed to be made at E3, which is just about a month away; Sony's press conference at the show is scheduled for June 2nd. If all the rumors pan out, PSP Go! will launch in September in Japan, and later in the Fall in North America. For more details see the 1Up story.

E3 2009 could be an ideal time for Sony to show off new hardware. Nintendo just launched the DSi, and there's been no indication that Microsoft will tease its next XBox console; if Sony makes an official announcement it'll be the only major hardware announced at the show.

The iPhone/iPod Touch is getting all kinds of buzz as a casual handheld gaming system, and Sony seems to be targeting that same audience with the speculated new PSP form factor and with digitally downloaded software. They've been building out what amounts to an 'app store' for some time and next week they're shipping a game, Patapon 2, as a digital-only product. The retail box includes a voucher for downloading the game: no physical media included (which really makes you wonder what the purpose of a retail SKU is). There's also been speculation that at some point Sony would ship games that came on a memory stick.

The big question for current owners of the PSP concerns existing software on UMD disks. Sony is apparently converting a broad selection of existing UMD based software to a digital format, but will they expect current owners to re-buy or will they figure out some kind of solution for ripping or converting physical to digital? And will they follow Nintendo's lead and keep the existing PSP in the retail stream alongside the new hardware? The PSP has a tiny install base compared to the Nintendo DS line; it seems unwise to try to maintain two PSP lines. But phasing out the old PSP would surely anger third party developers with software currently, or soon to be, on store shelves.

Lots of questions. Hopefully we'll get some answers on June 2nd.

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