Sony recently released its PlayStation App in North America, three days before the US launch of its new console, PlayStation 4. Having previously mentioned that the app and console would be released around the same time, the arrival of the PlayStation App came as no huge surprise.
Unlike Xbox SmartGlass, the PlayStation App is less of a secondary controller app and more of an access point to everything in the PlayStation Network. In its current state after the North American launch of PlayStation 4, the PlayStation App displays a lot of potential. That potential will likely be unlocked when PlayStation 4's more impressive features are updated with the app.
If you own a PlayStation 4, the PlayStation App is definitely a worthwhile download. As more features become available, the connection between the PlayStation App, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation Network will improve substantially. Below is my first experience of using the PlayStation App.
All features of the app were tested on an Android device, but the app should be identical on iOS.
PlayStation Network account required
A few days before the launch, I browsed the various sections of the app including the profile, trophies, and PlayStation Store. Profiles in the app sync with your account on PlayStation Network, so it doesn't matter if you have a PS4, an older PlayStation 3, or PlayStation Vita: your account data should sync without problem.
Of course, the PlayStation Network hadn't officially launched with support for PS4 yet when I tested it out, so the app had connectivity issues like the ones I intermittently experienced days before the launch.
Trophies synced with my profile without issue, and I was able to read information in the Links area. Right before launch, the PlayStation App was a window into some of the social features for PlayStation Network.
PlayStation Network is taken offline
Sony informed users that PS4 would require a Day 1 patch to enable a lot of features. It also recommended that users download and install the update using a USB rather than through the PlayStation Network. When PS4 launched, it was flooded with users updating the firmware, downloading digital games, and using the PlayStation 4's different media streaming apps. That same day, Sony took PlayStation Network offline for maintenance. This disconnected the PlayStation App's ability to sync with PlayStation Network, making it virtually unusable.
Certain parts of the app still worked, like Messages and the Store, but the aggregated social feed "What's New" was unable to populate any content.
Sony's maintenance of PlayStation Network was done relatively quickly, and by November 16, 2013, there weren't any significant problems with PlayStation Network or the PlayStation App.
'What's New' connected to PlayStation 4
The PlayStation App is designed for use with the PlayStation 4. While it connects to PlayStation Network to let you chat with friends, the expanded social feature is almost identical to the PlayStation 4's 'What's New' interface.
'What's New' is both a positive and negative feature, depending on how many of your friends have PlayStation 4. The feed integrates all activities performed using PlayStation 4, from playing a game, to earning Trophies, to uploading screenshots and video. I imagine that in the coming months, as other territories launch PS4 and friends start playing games, the feed may become flooded with updates that aren't necessarily relevant.
It was smart of Sony to include news in the mobile feed because it gives more visibility for information from Sony. In the future, there may be deals displayed in the feed or updates straight from PlayStation Network. It could also become a feed of spam message. The early state of PS4 adoption shows both the positive and negative aspects of What's New.
When more users start broadcasting using Twitch and Ustream, and as more friends start to utilize the 'What's New' feature, the feed could become more interesting. 'What's New' information will also be more relevant when friends request help in co-op games.
As an information portal, 'What's New' is dependent on the number of friends using the system, as well as updating missing features in the PS4 operating system.
PlayStation users have one account that's used across all current and next generation hardware, and the profile page in the PlayStation App is included. User profiles on PS4 allow you to display both your real name and your PlayStation Network account name, an option that can be activated during the initial setup.
It took a couple days for my activity on PS4 to start aggregating into 'What's New', and the user profile is a good tool to see what your friends are currently doing. I only have a limited number of PlayStation Network friends, so it was difficult to tell how much information is actually pulled from PSN.
Through my PS4 and in the app, however, I could see that my brother was watching Netflix on his PlayStation 3.
The PlayStation App displays which games your friends are currently playing, as well as their recent activities. This may not be the most relevant section unless you're fighting for Trophy counts with friends, but that section will display all actions if enabled in your system settings.
The profile section is essentially the same as what's displayed on consoles, although the expanded information on PS4 is more informative than just plain text of actions.
Notifications, Invitations, Game Alerts
The top header of the app shows four possible notifications.
Notifications are overall activities on PS4, the center of all actions that happen on the console. On the PS4, this section updates with game installs, game updates, messages, and uploads. On the app, it shows new messages, friend requests, and name requests.
Invitations are game invites for multiplayer or co-op games. You can also receive party chat requests through the app. When playing Call of Duty: Ghosts, for example, I received a notification to join an online multiplayer party.
Game Alerts is another section that will show game specific notifications. This will likely expand as more games support the feature.
Using Messages on PS3 was a tedious experience, mainly because it took too much time to type out messages with the on-screen keyboard. It's much faster using the app, and syncing between the app and the console is done in real time.
The Messages section will continue to keep track of all your current messages, as well as syncing previous messages, like it did for ones I had previously sent using PS3. Overall, the app is a great replacement for communicating with friends on PlayStation Network because you no longer have to use the on-screen keyboard.
The friends section is simple and to the point, collating all of the sections found in PlayStation Network into a simple drop-down menu.
These sections include:
- Find Player on PSN - search for users
- Online - current friends online
- Players Met - other users seen online
- All - entire list of friends
- Friend Requests (Received) - requests from PSN users
- Friend Requests (Sent) - requests to PSN users
- Name Requests (Received) - requests from friends to show real name
- Name Requests (Sent) - requests to friends to show real name
- Players Blocked - banned PSN users
As mentioned, these are the exact same options available on PS3 and PS4, only integrated into the app. It will also display whether or not a friend is online through the friends section using an icon on their profile pages.
Connect to PS4
You can connect a device to a PS4 by using PS4's Settings menu. Right now, however, there aren't many devices that will connect to a PS4.
The most interesting function is the ability to use a device as a second screen. I was hoping that I'd be able to use it as a replacement keyboard, but the option isn't currently supported. I'm sure the second screen function will expand as the console and app update in the future.
Sony Entertainment Network
One of PS4's new upcoming features lets you purchase games, movies, and TV shows online with the option of having the console automatically turn on to download the content, and then turn off once the download is complete. Sadly, this feature isn't available on the console right now; your only option is to queue the purchase in your account and wait until you turn on the PS4 to download it, much like the feature on PlayStation 3.
When the feature does activate, it'll be a great option for users who want to play a game as soon as they get home. The app uses a mobile web version of the Sony Entertainment Network store so that you can purchase items and queue for specific devices using the app. It authenticates your account information and loads the site, letting you browse content across all platforms, a nice addition so that you aren't stuck browsing only PS4 content.
Purchasing items is easy as well, and works the same as the website: add the item to your cart, check out, and then queue it for download. After the purchase, the app gives the option to "Download to your PS4" but currently, it's only able to add it to the download queue. I'm sure once the automatic download feature is available, purchasing and downloading games will be a much more seamless experience.
Rich features that can improve
Sony's companion app for PlayStation users, specifically targeting PS4 owners, is a solid start. There are hints of greater connectivity, but they're hindered by missing features of the PlayStation 4. Obviously, owning a PS4 will give you access to all the features in the app, but owners of PS3 and PS Vita can still use the app to communicate with friends outside of PSN.
In its early stages, the PlayStation App works with minimal problems for the features that are available. In fact, it's the PlayStation 4 that's holding the app back. When the firmware of the system supports all the announced features, the PlayStation App will be a much more powerful companion.
Would it be possible to mirror the PS4 on the device and use some of the media app through Remote Play or second screen? While possible, it's not likely, but that's potential that the PlayStation App has.