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PlayStation Phone: Why it could slice Apple to the core

Opinion: Tim Ingham says Steve Jobs' customers may be ready to graduate...

It was hard not to seethe.

Three years ago, they used to peer over at your PSP on train journeys, feigning a very public concoction of mockery and disgust.

Then they'd turn back to their iPhone.

"Pfft," their judgmentally raised eyebrows would emit. "Time to grow up."

Pricks, I called 'em. Not the most gregarious, grown-up description, granted. But wittier men than I have fallen foul of its charms.

These disapproving cynics came in all shapes and sizes; Armani-sporting Varsity types, furrow-browed money men, and - my personal favourite - the angular-haircut-and-super-tight denim mob. Every one smug, every one male, every one disappointed in me.

Only thing is, the Pricks have shape-shifted since then. It's been alarming to witness.

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Now when I see them on the Tube, they're all flicking away at their mini-screens like captivated gibbons with finger spasm.

Sometimes - and this is a rare treat - they even employ toddler-esque facial contortion to assist with their focus.

They have become - and we shan't be snobbish here - gamers. They have embraced a medium they once derided. In doing so, they have metamorphised into ex-Pricks.

It's been a beautiful transformation.

iPhone has done this. Or, more accurately, a catalogue of very decent, time-gobbling titles for iPhone have done this. But it hasn't been an overnight sensation.

In 2007, iPhone was a GQ-endorsed, must-have gadget for those who like to be seen on the cutting edge. Being on the cutting edge was mature - cool, even. Gaming, at the time, was not.

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The Pricks didn't know it back then - indeed, Apple's failure to put games anywhere near its marketing for over a year suggests it didn't either - but all that was about to change.

Today, gaming is at the centre of Steve Jobs' strategy - and is hugely appreciated by iPhone's biggest fans. The Pricks have been rehabilitated. They're part of the clan now.

On the other side of today's train carriage is another kind of ex-sneerer: The Modern Mainstream Gamer (MMG). They're the ones you see in the brightly-lit Kinect ads.

Often female, almost always busy, they never had time in their lives for gaming before Nintendo's casual revolution. They may have owned a DS or Wii and liked it, but iPhone is really the one that's really cut into their lifestyle.

Angry Birds has become perfect on-the-way-to-work fodder. Cut The Rope has seen The Life Of Pi cast asunder. Plants vs. Zombie has massacred Zero 7.

What exactly does all this have to do with the new PlayStation Phone?

Because both the ex-Pricks and the MMGs are starting to admit to themselves that they are gamers.

Their prejudices and preconceptions are dissolving; they are starting to ask: "Isn't there any more to it than this?"

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"Coooo-eeeee!", calls the PlayStation Phone (or 'Zeus', as she prefers). "I'm the least intimidating console in Sony history. Fancy graduating with me?"

Offering the phone-plus-email-plus-photos-plus-music functionality the ex-non-gamer demands, this intriguing little number promises an altogether richer gaming experience than iPhone - from a company at the forefront of the industry for 16 years.

Her timing is perfect. She's come about at the very moment when gaming has, against all odds, evolved into a priority for both the ex-Pricks and the MMGs. They are no longer daunted by it, or prone to condemning it.

If the specs of the alleged PlayStation Phone are true, it boasts a 1GHz Qualcomm processor, 512MB of RAM, 1GB of ROM, and a screen between 3.7 and 4.1 inches. Hardly a PS3 in your pocket, then - but more than enough to trump iPhone in the quality stakes.

The marketing, design and, of course, games will have to be spot on - and Sony's fumbling of PSP suggests that this isn't a guaranteed eventuality.

But, all-of-a-sudden, 'Zeus' has caused Apple to face the same quandary Nintendo has been staring at (and struggling with) in the home console market for months.

Just like Nintendo, Apple has placed video games in the hands - and the affections - of people who previously saw them as kids' stuff.

Just like Nintendo, Apple's adopters are starting to ask for something of higher quality.

And, just like Nintendo, Apple is watching Sony answer the call.

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