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PlayStation phone prototype pictures uncovered

If you don't really pay attention to the mobile phone market, you may only be aware of two products Sony put out to try and compete in the handheld gaming space. There was the PlayStation Portable, which was fairly successful for something that didn't have the word "Nintendo" on it. Then there was the PlayStation Vita, a system that could've been huge had Sony done a few things differently.

Those two devices weren't Sony's only forays into handheld gaming, though. Sony also made a smartphone with PlayStation-like controls called the Xperia Play. Unfortunately, the Play never really took off, and Sony pretty much backed off the idea for good.

Or did it? Judging by new photos that have popped up online, it certainly appears Sony might have been thinking about another go at the "game console-slash-phone" concept.

According to Reddit user shabab2992, images they shared to the r/SonyXperia subreddit are of an Xperia Play 2 prototype. At a glance, it certainly does look like a Sony gaming product. You can see the PlayStation branding in one of the corners. The device uses Sony's split d-pad design and the same triangle/circle/cross/square buttons. It seems there are even two touch areas where the joysticks might otherwise be on a PlayStation controller. 

If you browse through the rest of shabab2992's photos, you'll see Sony Ericsson branding and the Xperia name on the device. So it's safe to say this definitely looks like something that could have been called an Xperia Play 2. What's less clear, however, is when this device might have been manufactured, and when Sony might have potentially wanted to sell it.

The original Xperia Play launched in 2011 as an Android smartphone. Sony not only ported some of its PlayStation Portable games to the device, but also allowed players to jump into original PlayStation titles, too. Unfortunately, it's not entirely clear what Sony's strategy was in terms of capturing a slice of the handheld gaming market. Less than a year after the Xperia Play launched, the far more capable PlayStation Vita arrived. And though the Vita didn't have a phone element to it, that actually might have helped it pack in more gaming power. Plus, the Vita had joysticks. As tiny as they were, the joysticks made controlling games like first-person shooters and 3D platformers a lot easier.

Because the device revealed on Reddit is claimed to be an Xperia Play 2, logic dictates that this phone would've come after the release of the first Xperia Play. So it's possible Sony put the kibosh on the Play 2 because the Vita was either coming or was already out, and having the two devices on sale at the same time might've confused consumers. You can probably imagine some people would've bought the Xperia Play 2 believing it played Vita games. If that wasn't the case, Sony would've had a devil of a time trying to straighten all that out.

It is a shame, though, that Sony has seemingly dropped the video game smartphone idea from its lineup entirely. A quick look at the Sony website shows a roster of smartphones that mostly look the same. They're flat black slabs with no visible PlayStation branding and no gaming inputs to speak of. In a world where cloud gaming is quickly picking up steam — and 5G internet is poised to give everyone a much faster mobile connection — one has to wonder if a Sony gaming phone might be better received. Just as Microsoft is making a play for mobile devices with xCloud, Sony could release a PlayStation smartphone built to work with PlayStation Now. Perhaps such a device is in the works and gamers just don't know it yet.

In the meantime, it seems all PlayStation fans can do now is think about what might have been with the Xperia Play 2. It's entirely possible the phone would've received the same lackluster reception as the original Xperia Play, and the world of mobile games wouldn't have changed all that much. Perhaps Sony took a few lessons away from the first device, however, and stowed them for a more appropriate time. Cloud gaming services like the aforementioned xCloud and Google Stadia appear to be the future of video games, even if that future still seems a ways off. Sony already has a cloud gaming service of its own to sell to its fans — all it needs now is a PlayStation phone to tie the whole experience up into a nice neat bow.