Sony Mobile has apparently finalized its list of Android handsets due to receive an upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich, and unfortunately for Xperia PLAY owners, their phones will not see an official upgrade path. The reason? Testing revealed that PLAY couldn’t deliver a competent gaming experience when running an ICS build.

There are definitely grounds to take issue with this explanation, with the most obvious being: why is another PlayStation Certified handset with nearly identical specs, the arc, still apparently upgrade-ready, while the PLAY is not? Either arc owners have a lousy gaming experience to look forward to post-upgrade, or Sony was somehow able to get gaming and ICS to behave nicely together on arc but not PLAY — phones with the same CPU and same amount of RAM released just weeks apart.

Sony obviously knew that there would be widespread discontent with this decision — especially after a beta ROM was released — and you can safely bet that it wasn’t made lightly. It would seem, then, that there was some prohibitive cost involved in shoehorning ICS onto PLAY that doesn’t come into, um, play with arc. And there is at least one major difference: PLAY, and not arc, was sold through several US carriers (including CDMA-powered Verizon), and would naturally need to pass their strict testing for software upgrades.

In general, PLAY was much more of a hero device globally, finding its way onto top operators in nearly all major worldwide markets. Arc didn’t receive nearly the attention, and sub-par gaming on the device under ICS would not become nearly as damaging a meme for the company as it would with PLAY, the flagship Certified device (and one of only six or seven, apparently).

It will be very interesting to see what post-ICS gaming performance is like on arc, and it may put Sony in a small bind: if arc handles it competently, then PLAY owners will complain that they should have been upgraded as well. But if performance suffers, as it is claimed to do with PLAY, then arc owners will wonder why they suddenly have a great new OS but also a serious new problem.

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