Apple’s iPhone (and smartphones from RIM, Palm, HTC, etc.) have extended the amount of stuff we can do with our mobile phones — email, maps, Web browsing, IMing, etc. Another trend worth watching: more non-phone gadgets that can tap into the Internet to act as phones — which could become bad news for cellular carriers.
Today’s discovery: Sony’s Playstation Portable (PSP) will soon be able to make voice calls. Engadget points to a Sony Web page previewing next week’s Consumer Electronics Show, which highlights a PSP feature that doesn’t currently exist and hasn’t yet been announced: “Call friends, talk trash to fellow gamers or catch up with acquaintances via Skype for PSP system.”
There aren’t any more details than the screenshot above, so we don’t know if the service will be limited to Skype-to-Skype chats, or if eBay will release a full-service Skype client for the PSP that can send and receive phone calls to real phone numbers. But regardless, this will compete with mobile phones (and carriers) as yet another way to make cheap or free Internet phone calls. We expect similar software for devices like the iPod touch to come sooner than later, and similar features on future devices.
Sony has a successful mobile phone-manufacturing partnership with Ericsson, so it’s not in their best interest to try making mobile phones obsolete. But the ability to make phone calls is a compelling new reason to buy a PSP, and could help the company sell more of its portable video game systems. So this is a smart idea for Sony, which could use any help it can get.
Meanwhile, we don’t think wireless carriers are asleep under a rock, and we’re pretty sure they’re aware of the threat that any gadget with an Internet connection could be used as a mobile phone. Revenue from phone calls has already faded, and carriers know the key to growth will now be getting subscribers to sign up for data services (like mobile Internet access) on as many gadgets as possible — phone or non-phone.
This is one reason why Verizon Wireless and its peers are starting to make noise about opening their networks up to foreign devices and software applications. Verizon’s 3G network (and their forthcoming 4G network) offers a much wider coverage area than a wi-fi router. Amazon’s Kindle uses Sprint’s wireless network so you can buy books and read blogs all over the place, without wi-fi — very handy. Similarly, a Skype-connected PSP would be a lot more useful if it could connect to the Internet anywhere within range of a Verizon tower — not just a wi-fi router.
The big challenge, which we’ll watch unfold soon: working out the economics so no one gets screwed: gadget maker, carrier, or consumer.
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