It seems as if the rumors about the PS4 (SNE) release date predict that it will hit the market earlier and earlier every week. When I first covered this subject last month, analysts seemed confident that Sony's new console was slated to hit shelves during the 2013 holiday season, if not in first quarter of 2014. However, more recent rumors seem to indicate that an official announcement on the system could be made as early as March. Although some are speculating about the possibility of a June release, Sony's CEO Kaz Hirai has indicated that the company is taking its time.
Recently, Colin Sebastian, an analyst from Baird Equity Research, claimed that Sony's team may be looking to make an official announcement in March at the Game Developers Conference (GDC) to prime potential customers for a release coinciding with June's E3 video game convention. This assumption is based on the knowledge that both Sony and Microsoft (MSFT) are looking to hold "Apple (AAPL) style" events at the convention. Likewise, CNET recently reported that Hiroshi Sakimoto, Sony's VP of home entertainment, hinted that an official announcement may be coming in May, though E3 is the focus of the company's energy.
Considering that Microsoft has insinuated that it will announce its Xbox 720 at E3, announcing the PS4 a few months ahead could do a lot for Sony in terms of stealing its rival's thunder. Revealing the system a month or two early would not only give consumers more time to get excited, but might also prevent a head-to-head press battle with Microsoft at the electronic convention. This way, the company could use E3 to promote the launch software that would accompany its new system.
However, despite increased speculation, it's very unlikely that Sony would consider a launch before autumn of 2013. Because of the many entertainment options available to the public, summer is often the worst season for video game sales and releases. As such, it would be much smarter for Sony to wait for the annual mid-fall/winter line-up of high-profile games to ensure that its console launches with a variety of titles to support its system.
Representatives from Sony have even gone so far as to state that they have no interest in beating Microsoft to the punch at all. Yesterday, in an article from The Times, CEO Hirai is quoted as saying,"Why go first when your competitors can look at your specifications and come up with something better?” when asked about next-generation consoles. At this point, it's doubtful that Sony's rivals would be able to change their specs simply based on the knowledge of Sony's designs, but Hirai's statement does indicate that the company isn't looking to rush its process just to get out ahead. This may be a good thing; if patience and meticulous preparation are at the core of the PS4 development cycle, it could help Sony change its reputation for poorly managing its console releases, which has been repeatedly marked by anemic software support, crippling bugs, and complete failures in meeting demand.
In the end, as long as the PS4 is released within a month or two of the Xbox 720, both consoles will likely stand on equal footing. What will really determine the next king of the console market will be the specs of their systems and their console exclusives -- so until GDC and E3, it's anyone's guess.