There is an alternate universe where Sony Ericsson’s 2011 release of the Xperia Play was a huge success. In that universe, a substantial portion of today’s mobile games are played on similar successor devices, complete with physical buttons and d-pads that slide out from underneath the screen.
Today, we get a brief glimpse into that universe via late leaked photos of what seems to be a prototype of a planned Xperia Play 2.
The above photos (as discovered on the Sony Xperia subreddit) originate from a reseller on China’s Taobao platform, which specializes in person-to-person sales of new and used goods. Ars can’t independently verify the authenticity of the images, but they do line up somewhat with concept art for the Xperia Play 2 that leaked in 2012.
The boxier design and capacitive buttons on the touchscreen side of the device also line up with other phones in the Xperia line released around the same time. And the Taobao seller’s other listings include a number of other hard-to-find pieces of older technology, such as a PS3 developer kit. If this is a fake, it’s an elaborate one.
[Update: Over at mobile phone development community XDA, author Pranob Mehrotra says the above photos come from community member JerryYin, a prototype phone collector based in Shenzen. XDA also reports that the listing on Taobao is not intended to sell the device, but is “merely for exhibition purposes.”]
Everything old is new again
The most intriguing change on the Play 2 prototype is a button labeled “3D” near the center of this device. That could signify that Sony was planning its own glasses-free stereoscopic display akin to the Nintendo 3DS, which was grabbing headlines as early as 2010. A 3D display may have been especially attractive to Sony given the library of classic original PlayStation titles that the company had access to for the Xperia Play 2.
Otherwise, the PlayStation-styled controls on the prototype look altogether similar to those on the original Xperia Play. Incidental buttons like Start and Select have been moved from the corners to the center (and now light up when the device is on), and the buttons themselves have taken on an orange styling, with a stark orange circle around each side. The shoulder buttons also look a bit thinner than those on the original Xperia Play, bending around with the back of the device rather than jutting out with an expanded finger rest area.
As Ars noted in our review at the time, the original Xperia Play suffered a bit from a lack of compatible software, a dim screen, and some underpowered internals for the price. Looking back, though, it’s easy to see its form factor as ahead of its time. Today, snap-on devices like the Razer Kishi and phone/controller holsters designed for standard console controllers cater to an audience that wants to play a wide variety of mobile games with support for physical controls. These days, that includes mobile game streaming options from the likes of xCloud and Stadia as well, which have been designed for mobile phones with buttons and analog sticks in mind.
By 2012, Sony had pivoted away from button-based phone gaming to the PlayStation Vita, which ended up being its own dead-end in the world of portable gaming. But just for today, as we look at these prototype images, let’s all imagine that alternate universe where smartphones with PlayStation controls became a major new way to play well into the alternate future.
Listing image by Taobao