Sony hopes box of tricks can take bite out of Apple

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The chief engineer behind Sony's latest product on the video games market, the Playstation Portable (PSP), has described it as the "Walkman for the 21st century" because it can also play music and films, access the internet and store digital photographs.

There has already been unusual demand for the handheld console, which officially goes on sale in the UK today - with many retailers no longer taking advance orders to ensure they have enough units to sell over the counter. Sony believes that one million PSPs will be sold in the UK by Christmas. It took the iPod more than a year to sell the same quantity.

The launch in Europe was delayed to ensure demand could be met. In Japan, where it was launched in January and the US, where it came out in March, it has sold a combined total of more than five million.

Hundreds of people flocked to HMV's flagship store on Oxford Street in London last night for the PSP's official launch at midnight. The shop held back 500 unreserved consoles to sell on a first-come, first-served basis.

HMV's, Gennaro Castaldo, said: "These major games platforms come in cycles of three to four years. There's a real 'must-have' emotional approach to it if you're a games fan."

He predicted stocks of the PSP would be sold out by the weekend. The editor of the gadget magazine Stuff, Michael Brook, said: "The PSP is the ultimate convergence device. The iPod took a product that already existed and made it lighter. The PSP is not groundbreaking, but it brings everything together in a nice package."

The PSP is Sony's first foray into the handheld games console market. Comparisons will be drawn with Nintendo, but Sony UK's publicity manager, Jonathan Fargher, said: "It's probably unfair to compare it to the Nintendo DS and other machines in the market because the PSP is a much broader multi-media device." He added: "We are targeting the 18 to 34 market, not kids. People with disposable income."

The major film studios have already given the PSP their vote of confidence by bringing out films in the new Universal Media Disc format that it uses, which is just as high quality as DVDs. More than 30 film titles are available for the PSP, and at least 30 games.

Tesco, which is selling the PSP in 133 stores, is expecting such interest that it has launched an online "tracker" to help shoppers find out where the console is still on sale.

Meanwhile, a mobile phone that will play Apple's iTunes is to launch next week. The Apple-Motorola initiative has been widely trailed and was due to launch earlier this year. Reports from New York have sparked speculation that Apple would launch the "iPhone" at a conference in San Francisco next Wednesday.

The hot gadgets this autumn

Playstation Portable

Games console that also plays music and movies, can store digital photos and surf the internet.

Mac mini

Apple's low-cost basic computer unit - add your own monitor, keyboard and mouse.

Numark idj

The iPod mixer allows DJs and iPod enthusiasts to mix tunes from two iPods.

Walkman phone (W800I Sony Ericsson)

This music-playing phone with MP3 player is the first to carry the Sony Walkman brand.

Nintendo GameBoy Micro

A mobile phone-sized games console, launching in November

Xbox 360

Xbox aims to launch its new games console in November, ahead of the arrival of Playstation 3 next year.

Nokia 8800 phone

Also digital music player, with radio and hi-tech graphics.

iTech Bluetooth Virtual Keyboard

Uses a laser to project a virtual keyboard on to any flat surface on to which the user can type.

Motorola V3x phone

With video calls so you can see who you are speaking to.

Sony Cybershot TS camera

A digital camera which produces high-quality photos, and can be accessorised with an MP3 player and radio.

'Stuff' magazine