A new patent filed by Sony on the KIPRIS (Korea Intellectual Property Rights Information Service) has revealed that the company is developing a new storage device for an upcoming game machine. The storage device looks rather similar to the memory cards used by Sony for the PlayStation and PlayStation 2, but it isn't clear what system it will be used for.
Unfortunately the patent revealed little information about these new memory cards. We have a few images, and a note that reads "the cartridge for the electronic game." This tells us without a doubt that these devices are intended for a new game console, but leaves everything else for us to speculate about.
One possibility is that Sony is ready to finally produce a successor to its PlayStation Vita, which has been on the market since 2011 and is set to be discontinued in 2019. Sony hasn't announced any plans for a successor at this time, so it's hard to say if the company will remain in the mobile gaming space or not. As mobile phones have become increasingly more powerful, the mobile gaming space has been highly competitive in recent years and it would be understandable if Sony opted to leave this section of the market.
Another strong possibility is that these storage devices will be used for a new home game console. The PlayStation 4 is five years old now, but it wouldn't be surprising for Sony to have already started work on its successor. It would also make sense for Sony to want to move away from optical drives on its next gen gaming console. Optical discs have been used to distribute games since the mid 1990s, and the technology hasn't exactly aged well. Nowadays a lot of gamers are opting to purchase their games in a digital format, which has significant and very real advantages.
Unlike optical discs, digital copies of games can't be destroyed and they don't clutter up your home. Digital copies of games also have a significant advantage in terms of performance, as they are saved on either hard drives or solid-state drives, both of which are capable of loading data hundreds of times faster than the fastest Blu-ray drive. This is important to gamers, as it will also accelerate the speed at which games load when they are played. Optical discs also can't accept new data, and they have a rather limited storage capacity that is insufficient to hold some of the newest AAA game titles. It's also worth noting that optical drives take up a fair bit of space on home game consoles.
Buying games in a digital format does have one serious disadvantage, however, as they can't be re-sold. Digital games may also take a long time to download, and obtaining games in a digital format may be problematic for people with limited internet access. Transitioning [back] to game cartridges as a medium for distributing games could be a novel solution to replace optical discs. Flash memory chips capable of storing large amounts of data have become increasingly common and exceedingly cheap in recent years. Most flash memory is also capable of transferring data at speeds multiple times higher than the fastest optical drive. Although no measurements were listed on the patent, the memory cards appear to be fairly small as well, which would help to reduce clutter.
Looking at the bottom of the memory chip, we can also see what looks a proprietary connector. It's also worth noting that using flash-based media would also make it possible for game updates to be saved directly to the memory card, which could in turn reduce the load on a game console's primary storage device.
Until Sony releases additional details, we can't say for sure what these memory cards will be used for or if they will even come to fruition as a finished product. If Sony does begin to use game cartridges to distribute games for it's next gen gaming devices, however, it will be an interesting turn for the gaming market. There hasn't been a major home game console to use cartridges since the Nintendo 64 which was released in 1996, and although Nintendo uses game cartridges for it's handheld game devices, Sony has always exclusively used optical discs, which was a key factor in the success of the first PlayStation. But as optical discs becoming increasingly outdated, making a return to game cartridges may be in the best interest for us all.