August 20, 2010, 7:54 AM — According to Eurogamer, Sony is in the process of designing a new version of their Playstation Portable (PSP) handheld gaming system. Now, that in itself isn't all that surprising; we've heard rumors of a PSP2 regularly since about a month after the PSP first launched. And we've seen both iterations (PSP-2000, PSP-3000) and new form factors (PSPGo) but the basic game-playing internals have stayed the same (with the major exception of the PSPGo ditching support for physical media). But Eurogamer is talking about a true new generation of the PSP, and what makes this particular rumor more interesting than most is that they claim to have spoken to three different developers who've seen an early prototype behind closed doors (presumably at Gamescom though they don't confirm that). All three developers are describing the same unusual feature: a touch pad on the back of the unit.
I hope the rumor is true; I'm one of that rare breed of gamer who actually likes his PSP, and I've been a bit worried that Sony would give up on the system given its struggle to compete with the Nintendo DS and more recently, the iPhone.
That said, I'm wondering how this touch pad on the back would work. This isn't the first device that has tried this kind of thing. For instance the Motorola Backflip has a small touch pad on the back. In the video embedded below, at about the 1:20 mark, you can see it briefly demoed. The ergonomics seem pretty natural to me. When you're holding a device in landscape mode, your fingertips tend to be resting on the back anyway. But on the Backflip that touch pad is used just for scrolling, as far as I can tell. On a gaming system you're going to need much more precise controls.
So I've come up with a couple of theories. Basically I assume there'll be some kind of onscreen cursor (or cursors if the pad is multi-touch) showing where your fingertips are. It might be that you'll keep your fingers in contact with the pad at all times, then press a bit harder to select or click something. Or maybe it'll use some kind of proximity sensing touch system that can track your fingertips before they actually make contact with the surface of the pad.
Or maybe I'm thinking too big, and the back-side touch pad will just be for scrolling, with a traditional layout of buttons for all other controls. But where's the fun in thinking like that?
I know plenty of people who love gaming on their iPhones and Android phones, but I find it a bit frustrating to constantly have to try to peer around my fingers (I don't have the same problem with the iPad and its generous screen real estate). If Sony can manage to give us that same touch experience without our hands getting in the way, well, I they will have found a real differentiator for the PSP2.
What do you think? Genius or gimmick? And how do you think it'll work?
Here's that video of the Motorola Backflip in action: