Sony has had two ill-fated attempts to take a slice of the handheld gaming market, first from Nintendo with the PSP, and then from Apple and Google with the Vita. Both, it’s fair to say, were failures due to pricing, the need for expensive proprietary memory cards and the sheer strength of the opposition.
Ironically for a device branded with the Latin word for ‘life’, the Vita wasn’t supported for very long after its 2011 launch. Although it trundled along until 2019, Sony had long since given up on it. Vita was, to all intents and purposes, mort.
Now Sony is ready to love portable gaming again… kind of. It’s announced a partnership with the controller grip manufacturer Backbone to make a PlayStation-like version of the Backbone One grip for iPhones.
The buttons have the familiar circle, triangle, square and X icons, and it’ll fit everything from the iPhone 13 mini all the way up to the iPhone 13 Pro Max. It is, Sony reckons, the best way of playing PlayStation games on the go.
That raises an important question: what portable PlayStation games are there? There currently aren’t any on the App Store (though Sony has already signalled plans to change that in the long run) and PlayStation doesn’t have a cloud streaming facility like Xbox Game Pass (which you can also use this for, though Sony is oddly quiet about that in the blog post).
Instead, the use case today is Remote Play, which lets you stream games from your PS4 or PS5 console to your phone. This works best if you’re on the same network, but you can use it over 5G too, albeit with worse performance.
In the long run, you’d assume that Sony will make streaming games from its own servers to mobile a thing. It bought Gaikai in 2012 and OnLive three years later, and that tech has been used in streaming PS3 games to home consoles. Court documents from the Apple vs Epic trial even show that Sony was looking at bringing PlayStation Now to mobile phones back in 2017, but five years later, there’s no sign of it.
Perhaps that’s why Sony is hedging its bets and outsourcing the grip to a third party rather than making its own. Still, if you’re keen to dress up your iPhone as a Vita, the New Zealand store has the PlayStation Backbone available to buy now for NZ$189.99.