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Ericsson CEO Fuels Sony Gaming Phone Reports

Sony Ericsson CEO Bert Nordberg says that Sony's strong games business could be "very interesting" for the phone side of things, illuminating recent buzz around purported gaming-phone initiatives from Sony.
Where there's smoke, there's fire -- which means all that "PSP phone" talk that's gotten so much game and tech media buzz lately might have some substance to it. That's what the CEO of the Sony-related Ericsson phone business, Bert Nordberg, told The Wall Street Journal in a recent interview when asked about some collaboration between Sony's PSP business and its phones. In fact, that's pretty exactly what he said: "There's a lot of smoke, and I tell you there must be a fire somewhere," he told The WSJ. "Sony has an extremely strong offering in the gaming market, and that's very interesting." After a rep initially called a series of purportedly leaked hardware prototype photos "definitely fake", the company nearly-immediately reverted to a no comment, but the amount of interest in the possible product from the tech community is high, and Sony has occasionally been willing to discuss the reasonable synergies between two of its businesses given a gaming market ever more friendly to mobile play. Reports as far back as June 2009 suggested Sony would assemble a team to investigate such product possibilities, and earlier this month on a financial results call the company's CFO, Masato Kato, said that the "light" mobile gaming market was indeed an area of focus for the company. Citing unnamed sources, The Wall Street Journal said a Sony gaming phone would be more likely to carry the Ericsson Xperia brand and run on Google's Android OS, with games "available through an application." The rise of gaming on touch platforms like iPhone and iPad is increasingly perceived as a legitimate threat to portable gaming on dedicated platforms like the Sony PSP and Nintendo DS; amid declining game hardware sales, Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter recently expressed the belief that gaming on platforms like iPod touch is "cannibalizing" the handheld market. Sony made forays into download-only portable systems with its PSP Go, and its "PSP Minis" program is believed to been an initial leg of the company's effort to better reach small apps and mobile gaming marketshare. But although the company said one million Minis were downloaded in the service's first nine months, it's remained a relatively quiet space, and consumers resisted the PSP Go's higher price point and the idea of surrendering their physical UMD discs. But touch screen devices aren't "optimized for games," Nordberg told The WSJ. The publication asked him why there's been no Ericsson product that's leveraged Sony's breadth in the gaming space: "I haven't dug into that history, but the future might be brighter," he teases. Nordberg also said that the difficulty in launching a gaming phone lies in rights issues with games publishers, not hardware or technology challenges. "I'm very glad that we work with a company like Sony, who actually knows how to do it," he said. Microsoft, Sony's rival on the gaming front, has been making its own major push into the gaming-phone world with its Windows Phone 7, which support Xbox Live. The company coordinated a launch lineup with significant publisher support from companies like Electronic Arts, PopCap and Digital Chocolate, plus the benefit of its own internal Microsoft Games Studios. The platform saw something of a soft launch with a reported 40,000 units sold day one, but ahead of the key holiday season it's too soon to judge the device's long-term prospects.

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