After yesterday’s article all but confirming that Sony Mobile dropped the Xperia Play from its Android 4.0 update slate, the company is releasing the following statement to the press on why it came to its decision:
“Ice Cream Sandwich demands more from the phone hardware than Gingerbread. Android 4.0 is a more powerful OS and thus, more resource intensive – applications require more RAM, CPU power, and network bandwidth. From internal testing and feedback from the developer community on the beta ROM software release, we have seen a significant decline in user experience when running high performance games, as they are more demanding on the hardware. As gaming content is so integral to the core Xperia Play proposition, we cannot recommend an upgrade.”
Sony Mobile, previously under Sony Ericsson promised that the Xperia Play would be updated to Android 4.0 along with the rest of its Xperia line, but the heavily customized nature of the Play hardware may have played a part in Sony Mobile ultimately dropping its initial plans, as beta builds provided by the manufacturer to the development community did not solve issues that crept up during extended testing related to the hardware gaming interface and the overall state of Android games also played a part.
As the Xperia Play was intended to usher in the Playstation Certified mobile gaming platform on Android as way to compete with Apple’s dominance with mobile gaming on the iPhone, it was assumed that the Xperia Play would be a harbinger of bigger developments of mobile gaming, especially since the Play had the presumed advantage of hardware controls, controls that were frequently cited as necessary for mobile gaming to flourish outside of dedicated portable consoles and frequently cited as the main weakness in gaming on the iPhone.
Despite Sony Mobile’s best efforts with the help of outside Android developers and the wider community, it could never develop solutions to the hardware controller issues that plagued beta releases, such as games refusing to recognize the game pad, force closing and general instability due to lower performance compared to previous Gingerbread builds, which circles back to why the device is so stable on Gingerbread: Sony Ericsson never intended to upgrade the Play to Android 4.0, until consumer demand forced the team and Sony Mobile to hold to the previous commitment, even if it meant failure trying.
While this is commendable behavior, especially considering the less than stellar track record of other more experienced Android smartphone manufacturers, they still made the pledge and failed to live up to it, despite having a good reason that didn’t involve the typical excuses involving carrier testing or base hardware limitations. In this case, it wasn’t that the Xperia Play couldn’t support ICS because it was underpowered compared to the other phones in the original series, it can’t run ICS because the hardware is customized beyond what ICS was initially meant to support in terms of integrated hardware control surfaces.
As the Xperia Play runs a heavily customized build of Android Gingerbread developed in cooperation with Google, many custom changes were made to the build in order for the Xperia Play to be released with support for its sliding gamepad, and many of those changes simply didn’t integrate well with the beta builds of ICS provided by Sony Mobile, even after extensive community help and support in the hope that the issues could be fixed.
While our initial article yesterday groused at Sony and HTC for their update developments, I appreciate that Sony Mobile is willing to come clean and at least explain why their flagship gaming smartphone can’t be updated with a very plausible explanation that’s backed up by commentary across the developer community. However, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say the same about HTC and its behavior regarding Android updates for tablets, and that’s a shame.