Is Sony the Apple of Gaming?

Or is it Nintendo (NTDOY)? Or maybe even, yes, Microsoft (MSFT)?

Fooling around with my Playstation 3’s built-in photo visualizer this afternoon, the question struck me. Generally, Sony’s (SNE) Playstation user interface, which is common between the PS3 and PSP, has all the grace and panache of Mac OS X. And, likewise, the quirky coolness of the photo viewer is as refined as anything coming out of Cupertino. (See example video below.)

However obnoxious asking “is blank the Apple (AAPL) of blank” may be, it’s an interesting question insofar as it helps draw the distinctions between the big three game-makers’ chosen strategies. In a year where the hardware contest between these manufacturers will finally be fought on a relatively level playing field, it’s also a way of sizing up the strengths of each machine. More interesting yet, each company has a claim on Apple-esque strengths. Briefly:

Nintendo: Disruptive Innovator This is likely the most obvious comparison. Apple and Nintendo both have innovation in their corporate DNA, visible and vocal designers at the top, and a penchant for sleek, uber-simple hardware. Indeed, blog readers and I have had a spirited exchange about this, particularly in relation to the two companies’ stock here. But more-so, the Wii and iPhone will both be long remembered as two crucially influential consumer electronics devices that announced the arrival of disruptive user interface technologies, the accelerometer — or motion sensor — and touch.

Sony: Media Master Sony’s had a few rough years. But, all the pieces seem to have fallen into place for ‘08. (Everybody is asking ebulliently is this Sony’s year, including Sony.) More importantly, Sony, like Apple, has a facility with media that translates into sleek user interfaces more polished than either Microsoft’s or Nintendo’s. Both companies have also had a propensity for tenaciously backing media formats with mixed results, most recently AAC and Blu-ray successfully.

Microsoft: Ecosystem Expert Though it has no portable gaming system and despite the fact that improvements in the Zune music player’s second design iteration have yet to make any impact, Microsoft has by far the most well developed ecosystem of products and services already deployed for its console. (That could change later this year.) This includes especially Xbox Live, which is the most well-developed media service out there outside of Apple’s own iTunes. It’s grown into an effective marketplace for everything from independently developed and casual games to original Xbox titles, movies, and TV shows.

Games, Inc: Playstation 3 Photo Visualizer from Matt Vella on Vimeo.