PS4’s non-appearance: Do we really need to see a console to understand it?



For non-gaming technology commentators and press, the non-appearance of physical hardware was a significant problem for Sony and PS4. Dan Silver of The Mirror said on Twitter, “Was told there was no story because the box wasn’t here.”

“Sony’s “launch” of its PlayStation 4 turned out to have a lot less than meets the eye,” said The Guardian’s Charles Arthur. “The event itself, held in New York, was expected to include the rollout at least of a box, and a price, and a date when you’d be able to get your hands on one.”

Said John Gruber of Daring Fireball: “What was the bigger shit show: Sony holding a long press event for a device they didn’t show and wouldn’t give a shipping date or price for? Or the gadget blogs that devoted hours of coverage to this?”

Leaving aside the idea of a first reveal of gaming hardware that’s months before release coming with a final price and launch date, let’s consider the importance of seeing the hardware, a plastic box, itself.

I feel industrial design is of profound importance to technology, including consoles. I love the parallel lines and asymmetrical design of PS2, and Gamecube’s cube and handle will always hold a dear place in my heart. Aesthetics are important.

But consoles walk a slightly different path to many other pieces of technology. Outside the design of its controller – which Sony did reveal – a console’s form does little to inform its function. They’re generally hidden underneath the TV, your direct interaction with them restricted to their power and eject buttons. Most pieces of consumer technology are more form-led, because they’re designed to be on show, like a TV, or held, like a phone. Your day-to-day relationship with a console is marked more by aspects like its dashboard and peripherals.

Now, noise and size are an issue with box design, and they’re critical to a console’s future. But would we have been able to glean much of these aspects through a clutch of glossy press pictures and a distant view of box on a podium? I’d argue that we wouldn’t truly be aware of them until being able to use units in a domestic situation.

So was Sony’s decision not to show PS4 in the flesh a really a misfire? Was there really not much meat in all the other things that it demonstrated PS4 performing last night? We saw aspects of its dashboard in action. We saw games running on its chips. We saw its controller.

Do we really need to see a console to understand it?