PSP Keyboard Cancelled

Via Kotaku, news that the “most anticipated” peripheral for the PSP (a keyboard) has been cancelled by the manufacturer. An email from the company reportedly blames Sony for failing to share much-needed information about the PSP’s protocols.

I generally try to assume that companies behave in rational ways (even though it’s clear that this isn’t always true.) So I’ve been trying to think of reasons why Sony would fail to even minimally support the development of third party add-ons like this one. After all, they might spur sales of the PSP and lead to interesting applications for the device. So far, I’ve come up with the following possibilities:

  • Perhaps Sony plans to release its own keyboard, and sees no reason to share the market for it, and/or:
  • Perhaps Sony is afraid that customers will expect it to support (unreliable) applications made for use with the keyboard, and/or:
  • Perhaps Sony believes that third party add-ons will make it too difficult to predict PSP usage and positioning, and thus make it too difficult to create strategies for the platform going forward.

These aren’t terrible arguments. Still, console makers all understand that they can’t hope to survive without substantial third-party game development for their platform. I don’t see why third-party hardware development should be so different.

Maybe the keyboard (and related apps) could have inspired a huge new community of buyers. Even if Sony is cooking up a keyboard of it’s own, maybe this keyboard’s design would scratch someone’s itch better. The only thing more important than getting PSPs into people’s hands is making sure they buy games and/or UMDs afterwards. Could a third-party keyboard really hurt?

If Sony is really worried about tightly controlling the user experience, couldn’t it simply put third party add-ons (like this one) through the same rigorous qualifying routine that it puts games through?

Anyone have better insight than I into Sony’s thinking?

9 responses to “PSP Keyboard Cancelled

  1. Because the keyboard is not a peripheral that everyone requires, no software developer with a direct association with Sony is likely to support it. Sony is extremely rigid about ensuring that the majority of authorized PS2 games can be played with a Dual Shock controller, for instance. Business-wise, making games for optional peripherals only makes sense for companies with a strong foothold in the arcade business (like Konami) or peripheral market (like RedOctane and Logitech).

    Thus, the only things that the keyboard will be specifically useful for would be non-authorized-game use, which either means non-game (like e-mail) or non-authorized (homebrew). If Sony launches its own keyboard, then it probably has non-game applications planned for future firmware revisions, and Sony may not want to have to deal with compatibility with a range of different third-party keyboards.

    I suspect that they’re more paranoid about the homebrew possibilities of a keyboard-enabled PSP. Folks who end up buying PSPs just so they can use it as a cheap portable Linux laptop may likely hurt Sony’s bottom line. You can always make the argument that more PSPs owned will always translate into more games sold, no matter why they were bought for in the first place, but there’s a very strong element of wishful thinking in that argument.

  2. > Because the keyboard is not a peripheral that everyone requires

    Neither is the guitar controller for Guitar Hero.

    > making games for optional peripherals only makes sense for
    > companies with a strong foothold in the arcade business
    > (like Konami) or peripheral market (like RedOctane and Logitech)

    Why couldn’t develolpers work with peripheral makers, in the same way Harmonix worked with RedOctane?

    > Thus, the only things that the keyboard will be specifically
    > useful for would be non-authorized-game use

    That strikes me as a bit of an assumption, though it’s certainly true that non-authorized game use would be very significant.

    > Sony may not want to have to deal with compatibility with a
    > range of different third-party keyboards.

    Fits argument #2 in my list. I’ve never been very sympathetic to this kind of argument. Maintaining a reasonable list of protocols isn’t impossible, or even terribly difficult if you’re careful.

    > I suspect that they’re more paranoid about the homebrew
    > possibilities of a keyboard-enabled PSP

    I think you’re right about that.

    > You can always make the argument that more PSPs owned
    > will always translate into more games sold, no matter why
    > they were bought for in the first place, but there’s a very
    > strong element of wishful thinking in that argument.

    If PSP use exploded because people were excited about using the platform for mobile computing (i.e. email), etc, do you really think none of those new customers would be interested in buying UMDs to watch while on the road? Or games to play? If you *do* think that, I’m afraid we simply have a fundamental disagreement on our hands.

    I think the more technically-inclined among us (i.e. MIT guys like me and you) overstate the number of people who would instantly dive into homebrew and forget all else. There’s definitely a big (and growing) homebrew community. But I really doubt that the average guy on the street would buy a PSP *just* to do homebrew stuff — at least, at the current time. More like, if he saw a keyboard bundled with an email app, he’d just buy that. Plus a game to play on the way home. *grin*

    Again, you can disagree, but I’m afraid it would come down to philosophy, since I agree there’s a vibrant homebrew community, and I seriously doubt that homebrew users would stop buying games and UMDs either way.

  3. I think you’re reading too much in to this. Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence. Sony is not a software company, and it sounds very plausible to me that they simply couldn’t get their shit together. I bet that they themselves are not sure how their own interface works, and that it varies dramatically between various combinations of PSP hardware and firmware revisions.

    Another possibility is that Logic 3 couldn’t get their shit together and are trying to pass the buck off to Sony. Everyone wants to hate Sony these days.

  4. > Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately
    > explained by incompetence.

    Well, Sony does have a reputation for tightly controlling its systems (and resorting to proprietary standards).

    > Another possibility is that Logic 3 couldn’t get their
    > shit together and are trying to pass the buck off to Sony.

    LOL. Fair point. I concede this is a possibility.

  5. I agree with breath. Incompetence.

    “I generally try to assume that companies behave in rational ways (even though it’s clear that this isn’t always true.)”

    If I were to write that sentence it would read..

    I always assume that companies are incompetent (the bigger the more incompetent.)

  6. Why couldn’t develolpers work with peripheral makers, in the same way Harmonix worked with RedOctane?

    If peripheral makers are willing to foot the bill for game development, sure. I would really like to see how much RedOctane’s made back on their investment; the game has won tons of accolades, of course, but the price point is extremely high. The appeal to non-gamer players is a point in its favor.

    If PSP use exploded because people were excited about using the platform for mobile computing (i.e. email), etc, do you really think none of those new customers would be interested in buying UMDs to watch while on the road? Or games to play? If you *do* think that, I’m afraid we simply have a fundamental disagreement on our hands.

    Interested, yes, but if Sony fails to supply the UMD channel with sufficient content, I’m not sure if having lots of people buy a PSP for email is going to translate into much. Right now, other than the homebrewers (which are definitely a small group), anyone buying a PSP really has no choice but to buy some UMD content, because it’s not really good for anything else.

    There is nothing fundamentally wrong with having a keyboard for a PSP, but its existence would require diversion of resources and attention in Sony to properly support it with software and services; I’m not sure if they can afford that diversion right now. (Alternatively, I’m also not sure if they can afford to continue with their current strategies.)

  7. I tend to agree with Philip. Sony’s expects to get more revenues from software – partly by tightly controlling content through proprietary media, and then charging high royalties from developers to allow them to producte the media. UMD seems in this mold. So.. devices that might distract from UMD sales would be less attractive.
    (Flashback: I did a music game for SCE Japan (7 yrs back) that included a non-standard peripheral that we manufactured. IT took a lot of work to get that done – they were very conservative.)

  8. Before the Palm, there were several clamshell style PDAs which protected their passable keyboards and landscape format screens when closed, and enabled extended word processing, spreadsheeting etc to be done for days on AA cells out of reach of a power socket.

    Then everybody jumped on the Palm format, the clamshell format PDA disappeared, and users had to resort to crippled input via slower pens. Soon thumboards and folding keyboards were added (indicating a dissatisfaction with pen input) but neither had the portability nor convenience of good, small, keyboards. Music, email, video, and all sorts of other bells and whistles have been added, and game machines now exceed the power of early mainframes – but we still haven’t got back to a small PDA which permits extended work to be done for days in remote locations (and syncs with Macs!)

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