What Should be Next for Handhelds

What Should be Next for Handhelds

[‘What Should Be Next’ is weekly column where I examine and discuss certain trends, franchises, genres and ideas in the gaming industry, and where they should be headed.]

With 2011 now behind us, and all of the AAA titles out of the way, gamers have another “next big thing” to look forward to. Sony’s PlayStation Vita is gearing up to hit store shelves on this side of the world and the hype surrounding the handheld is now at an all time high. I’ve already gone on record to say that the Vita is what the handheld market needs, and that’s something I really believe, but what should be next for the platform?

With their current offerings, both Nintendo and Sony (respectively) have shown signs of keeping up with the times. Between the 3DS and the PS Vita we’re seeing things like video streaming, cloud storage and location sharing. Such features wouldn’t have been a thought pre-iPhone era, but because of the rapidly moving mobile gaming market, services like these are now becoming the standard.

Innovation is a by-product of competition, and now with both of the dedicated handheld manufacturers’ backs against the wall, keeping up with the times won’t be enough. Something special needs to happen.

To figure out where it should be going, we need to step back and realize what a handheld is supposed to be. When you think about it, the whole point of a handheld is to replicate the same experience (or quick fix) you would get if you were on your couch at home. But while that has always been the intent, the translation always falls short and sacrifices are often made.



Beginning with the PS Vita this year, the lines that once separated consoles and handhelds will begin to be blurred. And as more time passes, the gap between them will only continue to shrink. Once the technology catches up to the point that you cannot tell the difference between the two, well, now you have the next thing for handhelds — the handheld console.

Now before you get all crazy and call me an idiot in the comments section of this post, just hear me out. I’m not saying that playing on your big screen will cease to exist. No, that’s far from it. What I am suggesting is that your handheld should also be your console. So the whole “I like to game on my TV, I can never game on a handheld” argument is null and void.

Not to sound like a PS Vita salesman here but I need to put something in perspective for you. Sony eliminated the ability for their handheld to output video. Sure, they can use the “to keep costs down” line, but let’s be real here, cell phones have been shipping with the ability to output through HDMI for 2 years now. This move was done to not take away potential buyers from the aging (but very much in it’s prime) PlayStation 3. It’s really as simple as that.

Just think about it. How great it would be if for your next LAN party you had everything you needed to bring in your pants pocket (besides your monitor, of course), including your whole game collection?

I brought up the idea of the technology catching up, but it’s really not as far off as you think. In the last month alone we saw the release of the first mobile device featuring NVidia’s “Kal El” Tegra 3 processor. It’s a quad core, ARM architecture, system on a chip (SOC). Its about the size of a thumbnail and can crank out resolutions of 2560 x 1600 along with simultaneous 7.1-surround sound. In other words, there will be cell phones in 2012 that will make your 360 look like a Virtual Boy.

NVidia’s next chip, the “Stark” (yes they’re all named after bad ass super heroes), is the next in line on the production road map for 2012. The company has gone on to say that it will be half the size of the Tegra 3 while being 100 times more powerful than its predecessor. Can you just imagine what they have planned for 2013?

With miniaturization and costs being among the biggest hurdles, it’s acceptance that will provide for the biggest challenge. Will gamers be able to accept the idea that their home console also happens to be the same device they take with them on their daily commute? Will the manufacturers accept that this is what needs to be done for handhelds (and even consoles) to outlast and outgun the Apples and Samsungs of the world?

As it stands right now, Nintendo is the only one out of the big three console makers with the big enough cojones to pull something like his off. But seeing how all three are scrambling for the next big thing, it’s anyone’s game at this point.

When you think about it, we’ve always thought of our handhelds as miniature consoles we’d take on the go with us. Losing the whole “miniature” or “good enough” tag is what should happen. If the end result means that the handheld and the home console become one and the same thing in the process, well, if there’s no loss of quality, then why the hell not? This is what should be next for handhelds, and if it’s how it eventually pans out, you can sign me up right now.