Life has become an uphill struggle for dedicated gaming portables. But while the market hasn't been been especially kind to the likes of Sony and Nintendo, a large part of the blame for those troubles lies in the decisions of Nintendo and Sony themselves.
Consider, for example, the latest information to emerge about the PSP Vita, Sony's upcoming (and delayed in the U.S.) portable. First, Sony says that using the Vita, which has no on-board memory, will require owners to purchase its propriety memory format for game saves. A 32-GB version of the new memory card will run for roughly $124, more than double the price of the average comparable SD card. Potential Vita owners are understandably upset by this news.
Then comes the console's estimated battery life. Similar to the numbers on the original PSP, Sony says that the Vita will offer 3 to 5 hours of gaming on a single charge, with video playtime erring on the higher end of that estimate. Like most battery life estimates, of course, those numbers assume that players will have the console's screen brightness set to the default, and Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and 4G turned off. So they are fairly flawed estimates, all told.
Are you starting to see the problem here?
The power demands of portable consoles are starting to outpace the capacity of the batteries that fuel them. The battery issue has long been a problem for portable electronics, but nowhere is more clear than with the latest portable consoles. While owners of smartphones with especially large screens (see: HTC's EVO 3G) have also been privy to these issues, gaming consoles are different from smartphones in that they typically used for much longer spans of time.
Thus, a gaming console with four hours of battery life is effectively useless as a portable device, especially during long car trips and plane rides where no outlets are available. Worse is the period after the battery is completely drained. The Vita requires 2 hours and 40 minutes to charge completely.
Battery life has already proven to be a big issue with the 3DS as well, so much so that Nintendo bundled the device with a dedicated charging cradle. Nintendo estimates the battery life on the 3DS to be 3-5 hours with the console's 3D effect turned on. That playtime is bumped up to 8 hours when playing original, non-3D DS games. (In comparison, the battery on original DS lasted for up to 19 hours with the lowest screen brightness setting). So things have clearly gotten worse, not better.
But will battery life deter consumers from picking the Vita up? Considering that the original PSP offered similar battery numbers, and still sold fairly well, it's likely that gamers will take the plunge either way and just deal with the results. Nonetheless, battery life remains the biggest thing to worry about with the Vita, and just about every other portable gadget in 2011.