In a week of consumer electronics madness, Sony announced it is introducing Skype features to its recently refreshed PlayStation Portable (PSP) handheld entertainment system.
Skype offers free VoIP services and boasts more than 246 million members. The PSP-Skype partnership will offer gamers free voice calls between Skype users, presence features that let them see which friends are online and available to talk, SkypeOut calls to make calls to landlines and mobile phones anywhere in the world, and other standard Skype services.
"We don't know beyond a shadow of a doubt if Skype will be successful on a PSP," said Michael Goodman, a Yankee Group analyst. "We do know there has been some success with Skype on mobile devices. The PSP is a mobile device."
Typically, Goodman explained, people who use Skype on mobile devices are power mobile users who access the service while traveling, particularly internationally.
The Skype-PSP deal is the first time the VoIP service has been crossed with an entertainment device. Of course, the PSP isn't just any entertainment device -- or at least Sony isn't positioning it that way. To understand Sony's motivation for partnering with Skype, Goodman said, you have to take a step back and look at Sony's aspirations for the PSP.
According to Goodman, those aspirations were not to develop just another handheld gaming system. Sony has positioned the PSP to be a full-fledged media player. Goodman said the device does a good job at playing music and showing videos. Now, Sony is adding applications that will enhance the value of the PSP.
"Is Skype going to enhance the value for everybody? Absolutely not. But for a segment of the marketplace, it will. It will be interesting to watch over time how large of a user base it wins and who adopts it," Goodman said. "If it is easy to install and easy to use, then I think some people will use it."
Here's how it works: After updating the PSP system software, a Skype icon will be added to the Network category in the home menu. PSP users who do not yet have a Skype user name can register by clicking the icon and following the instructions. PSP users who already have a Skype username can sign in by clicking the Skype icon and entering their user name and password.
Threat to Carriers?
The not-so-obvious question is how the presence of Skype on the PSP might impact wireless carriers. The answer, said Goodman, might depend on who adopts the service.
If younger consumers adopt Skype on PSP, Goodman said, they are being trained to use free voice services, which is not beneficial to wireless carriers that want everyone using mobile services and paying for those services.
"The net-net is there are more questions than there are answers, but it's a no-lose situation for Sony. They are adding a value and it's not costing them much of anything," Goodman noted. "It's a win for the consumer because it's not costing them anything. Everybody can win except potentially the wireless carriers."