If you haven’t heard by now, Sony is removing support for a few apps on the PlayStation Vita. Already the YouTube app has been removed from the PlayStation Store with the MAPS app to be gone as well via a firmware update expected in March. This all comes within the same time frame as Sony announced their new music service “PlayStation Music” as a partnership with Spotify. Yet while these changes are significant, the real interesting change comes from the loss of PlayStation Vita’s proximity application NEAR.
For those unaware, or what I would rather call uninformed, NEAR was Sony’s application to connect Vita owners by helping them find others close to their location. By using this app, Vita owners could not only find other gamers close by, but also receive different game items and gifts to use in various titles they may have owned.
To better understand this, think of NEAR as Sony’s version of Nintendo’s StreetPass feature you would found on the 3DS. The exchanging of game data and ability to communicate with other owners of the portable system is where the two companies drew parallels on their handheld systems. But there lay my problem with NEAR; it just wasn’t StreetPass.
More accurately though, the app was not handled by Sony in the same fashion as Nintendo had treated StreetPass. The basic exchanging of data between Vita consoles was made complicated and impractical, rather than the simplistic approach for StreetPass by Nintendo. Many times I would try to use NEAR to find others with a PSN account close by, which could only be done if there was a Wifi connection in the area link up to. When I did find other players though, the experience was only made more complicated and silly when I could only receive in-game items and gifts from people for titles I just did not own. Nowhere to be found was a setting to stop this and prevent my already limited Vita memory card from being crowded up by useless game data to me.
The issues with NEAR however were more pronounced. Sony’s unwillingness to neither acknowledge NEAR at all nor improve any of its features was a real downer. Not once were there any updates to the app or any talk of NEAR having compatibility with big games on Vita. The app was not only confusing for those who owned the device but was completely ignored by even the most hardcore fans of the system. NEAR for the longest time has been a dead application that just lingered on the home screen of everyone’s PlayStation Vita. The one real interaction Vita owners have had with NEAR since 2012 was to place it in a separate folder of unused applications.
So is it a total loss for Vita? Probably not, but it is rather a loss of untapped potential. NEAR could have been a much more dynamic application had it not been limited to being close to an active Wifi connection. The approach from Nintendo on StreetPass would have been a better way of getting Vita owners on the go connected and building up a more social portable console.
Could a better handling of NEAR have made Vita a stronger portable console on the market? Probably so, but it looks like we’ll never know for sure.