Did Smartphones Kill the Handheld Gaming Console?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

The PlayStation PSP has gone the way of the dodo and the classic GameBoy. Sony is discontinuing its once signature handheld gaming consoles. The PlayStation Vita hangs on by a thread.

It’s not just Sony PlayStation that is experiencing tough times. Nintendo’s 3DS sales are weak too. It is a tough time for the handheld console. Despite these tough times, gaming is growing due in part to tablets and smartphones. With the E3 conference kicking off soon, it will be interesting to see how Sony and Nintendo attempt to either rebuild or scrap its console gaming businesses.

CNET’s coverage of the discontinuation of the gaming console reads like a gamer’s eulogy for a handheld system that had often played second fiddle to the Nintendo DS, a gaming console that well outsold the PSP. The latter is one of the best selling gaming consoles of all time as of press time. About 80 million PSPs have been sold since its 2004 premiere. It also notes that the PSP’s arrived before smartphones and even before an iPod that played video. The technology released since then may have made the technology in the PSP seem redundant.

Despite these past successes, both handhelds’ successors are not selling so well. The PlayStation Vita and the 3DS are both experiencing weak sales numbers. Part of Nintendo’s recent 30 percent drop in sales is due to poor sales of the 3DS (and the Wii U console) in recent quarters. Despite this, game developers are finding success by focusing on apps, which are a growing market. Video game apps are doing particularly well. Many of the top grossing apps are games, including some franchises that have put out past releases on traditional consoles and computers. Examples include The Sims and Minecraft.

It’s not that the console market is dying. The PlayStation 4 has sold more than 7 million units. The Xbox One has sold more than 3 million units. These numbers show that gaming consoles are not hurting in the traditional hook it up to the television setup. It is handheld sales that are disappointing at the moment.

While it cannot be definitively said that smartphones and tablets are responsible for the decline of handheld gaming consoles, it can be said that Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga did not help the situation either. Playing games is a popular use of both smartphones and tablets. Its ability to stream video and music also makes it an attractive alternative to handheld gaming consoles. Plus, many smartphones retail for under $200 now; it is at the same price or cheaper.

While it seems unlikely that the handheld market will die out completely yet, it will likely change. A new generation of handheld gaming consoles may reverse or temporarily halt the trend. Or perhaps we’ll have a future of playing official Animal Crossing and Pokémon apps on our smartphones and tablets.

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