sony playstation vitaSony’s upcoming PlayStation Vita handheld console will not see a release in the U.S. until 2012, after the company originally said the unit would be available by the holiday season 2011.

“I can confirm that PlayStation Vita will initially launch in Japan before the end of the year, followed by introductions in the U.S. and Europe early next year,” Dan Race, director of corporate communications for Sony Computer Entertainment America, told us via email.

Kazuo Hirai, the executive tapped to replace current Sony Chairman Howard Stringer, first shared the news with reporters at a press round table in Tokyo on Thursday.

The news follows earlier speculation that the Vita would miss its planned holiday season launch. Missing the holiday shopping season is not a good sign for the console, as it is the best-selling time of the year for consoles and video games.

The delay gives the competition — namely Nintendo’s 3DS — more breathing room this holiday season. Just a week ago, Nintendo announced it was dropping the price of the 3DS to $169.99 from $249.99, with the hope of spurring better sales. Nintendo said more than 830,000 people in the U.S. have bought a 3DS since March 27, but it wants to push more gamers to get a 3DS now.

Both Nintendo and Sony are facing disruption in the handheld gaming industry from smartphone games, many of which only cost 99 cents. Even iPhone or Android games that run $5 or $10 are easier to buy on impulse than a $30 title on the 3DS.

Are you interested in buying a PS Vita? Or will the delay move you to grab a now-cheaper Nintendo 3DS?

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