Once upon a time, the PSP was supposed to be a full-featured multimedia device, and it was, but not very many people used it that way. Now, the PS Vita is also a full-featured multimedia device, which seems to have a lot of people excited. But, not only is it a multimedia device, the PS Vita is also a social networking device, with a tonne of related features either built-in or optional. But how many people will use it that way.
All models of PS Vita will be able to connect to the internet via Wi-Fi, but a 3G model is also available, meaning some users can be connected all the time. The PSP also had Wi-Fi capabilities, but there weren't really that many ways it could be used aside from downloading games or updating firmware. From the PSP-2000 on, Skype was also included as part of the firmware, but didn't get a lot of use (if you use Skype on a PSP, I'd love to hear your impressions of it). So aside from 3G models, it doesn't really look like the PS Vita will be any better connected than the PSP was. Still, it's not the connection, but what you do with it, and Sony's loading up the PS Vita with all kinds of ways to connect and socialize with friends (and event o make new friends).
Get a Party Going
Among the built-in apps that will come pre-loaded on a new PS Vita is something called "Party." This clever little app will address the demand for in-game voice chat (something PSP gamers have been asking for with just about every firmware update), allowing up to 8 people to text and talk during anything you happen to be doing on the PS Vita. It also makes setting up and joining multiplayer games easier. There is also a separate messaging app that lets PS Vita users message other PS Vita users, as well as PSP and PS3 users (presumably once those features are added in firmware updates for the PSP and PS3).
Also built-in are a couple of features PS3 users have had for ages. The PS Vita will have better PlayStation Network integration than the PSP ever did (which isn't that hard, really), and will include a friends list just like the one on the PS3, with all their relevant information. And because it's a list of PSN friends, and not just PS Vita friends, you can even keep tabs on people with PS3s but not PS Vitas. Trophies are also fully supported on the PS Vita, and all PS Vita games (not including PS Minis) will be required to have them. From an app right on the PS Vita, you can check your own trophies and those of your friends. Again, it's connected to the PSN, so you can also see your PS3 trophies.
As if that wasn't enough social connection already, the PS Vita also includes an app called "Near." It uses location-based information to let you know who's close by--both friends and other PSN members. You'll be able to play against them, compare stats and even exchange user-created content for games.
Join a Wider World
So far, everything I've mention has been about social connection on the PS Vita itself, or on the PlayStation Network, but Sony is aiming much higher than that. They want you to not only connect with other Sony gamers, but with everyone. To that end, PS Vita users will be able to download custom versions of the most popular social networking apps and use them right one their handhelds. Optional downloadable apps include Facebook, Foursquare, Skype and Twitter. While Skype is more of a cheap way to make phone calls (it remains to be seen whether or not the PS Vita version will allow video calls), the other three are the big guns in social networking. You'll be able to post status updates whenever you make a great combo or get a fantastic highscore, without having to switch to your phone or computer to do it. Most of these custom versions will also allow you to do PS Vita specific actions, like post a screencapture of your amazing highscore on your Twitter feed, for example.
It all sounds great in theory, but how much will gamers actually use social networking? It's my suspicion that the PS Vita probably won't be many people's go-to device when they suddenly fancy browsing Facebook or reading their Twitter feed. But where it will shine is the ways it can do things that social networking can't do on a laptop or phone--like the aforementioned high score screenshot. And I do think you'll see a lot more Facebook status updates of gaming-related topics, once gamers don't have to switch devices to post them.