Sony PlayStation 4: Welcome to the experience, hardware will come later

After much fanfare, Sony has announced the launch of the PS4 at its Future of PlayStation event in New York. We say launched the PS4, but in reality the company has shown us only the PlayStation 4 experience. 

While many billed and expected the event to be a standard hardware launch, what we got was a platform launch.

That's right, the world of PlayStation complete with games, social, Vita, and even iOS and Android and how it will all fit into your life rather than a single product at a single point in time. 

It is a marketing message Sony has learnt from the phone industry, opting to show off the core software features of the new PS4 while holding the hardware back, in the ultimate tease.

READ: PS4 pre-orders open for business, with no exact release date or price

As Apple does with iOS at WWDC, Google with its dedicated Android announcements, and even Microsoft did with its Windows Phone 8 software launch ahead of Nokia and HTC phone launches last year, the idea that the platform comes before the hardware is nothing new - well, not for the mobile industry.

It's all about exciting the senses, about encouraging developers to get on board with the new platform, to stake their claim ahead of any announcement from the Xbox team.

But while that works for Apple, Google and Microsoft, it seems that gamers, to some extent, aren't used to the approach, with many games journalists upset at the lack of physical hardware other than the controller at the New York unveiling.

The hype machine had billed the PlayStation Media event as a console launch party. It's too early for that.

That's left many to wonder how Sony could orchestrate a console launch without a console to show, or how it can announce a product that won't ship for another nine months, without a price. Yes, a lot is going to happen between now and Christmas.

What the point of the event was, was to confirm that the next-generation console from Sony is now official. That big developers, aside from EA, have shown their support, and on the whole everyone present seems happy.

READ: PS4: Everything you need to know

But in an age when technology companies increasing announce one day, and go on sale the next, Sony's nine-month gestation period is either a stroke of genius, or a roll of the dice that will unseat the company.

Unlike the mobile phone industry, where a phone launch lasts a matter of months rather than years, the games industry still works at a much slower pace. It's been seven years since the PlayStation 3 was announced. Games, as any developer will tell you, take time to develop, and that's before you start to implement and include the array of control mechanisms and social aspects Sony has planned for the next-generation gamer.

Sony has made the first move against Microsoft and its next generation Xbox, leaving the Redmond-based company the chance to retaliate with the option to double-counter before launch, which is a risky move - especially as it's still got to sell PS3 consoles in the meantime.

If Microsoft is clever, it will announce its event quickly, strike while the iron is hot, and go all in, detailing everything with a quick launch window to capture the mood.

Sony will be forced either to wait it out or react to Microsoft's action. It's a risky strategy, and one that Kaz Hirai, Sony CEO, has perhaps planned all along. Gutsy springs to mind.

Of course, Microsoft might be in the same boat and not have the goods to counter-attack just yet. That means the gamble will have paid off, and Sony will have the momentum to claim 2013 as its own.

That's not to say Sony hasn't teased us with just enough information to pique our interest. The company has detailed plenty in the press conference that was broadcast to all those who tuned in, and in subsequent messages via interviews and statements.

READ: PS4 game trailers: What's in store for the new console?

We now know, for example, that the PS4 will feature a Blu-ray player, that it will come with a large hard drive, and that it will have a processor and graphics card any PC gamer would be proud of.

We also know that it will be one of the most social consoles yet, with Sony attempting to create a "Facebook for gamers" that will give them so much information that it will be able to use that information to predict what game you will be buying from it next. That should quell gamer worries that PS3 games or a console bought now won't turn into a paperweight come the Holidays.

Cloud gaming is the future says Sony, as is the adoption of a second-screen experience either via tablets (Android and Apple) or the company's own PS Vita handheld console, and the console's backwards compatibility with previous consoles looks to turn this into more than a dumb box in your living room.

Developers from Activision to Ubisoft to Capcom all lined up to tout their latest special offerings with demos clearly showing that the console will be able to produce the graphical goods come launch day.

The New York PlayStation event was about showing a connected and capable device rather than being about pre-orders. This isn't Sony playing catch-up, but its outlining a future gaming experience we've been teased, but have yet to see in practice.

With the game expo E3 just around the corner in June - and no doubt a range of pre-selected target dates already internally known to promote the message further - Sony has nine months to convince us that the PS4 is the console to own. Judging by the way that the company is already marketing it, getting it right is going to be important. Why? Because chances are this could be the last one it makes. 



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