Sony has released new information regarding the online capabilities of its upcoming PlayStation handheld, the Vita.

The PlayStation Vita has four online modes, Near, Party, LiveArea and Activity.

Speaking at the Develop conference in Brighton, Phil Rogers, Sony Computer Entertainment Europe’s research and development boss described Near as a location-based gifting system. “What Near does is it allows users to discover each other, leave gifts for each other and essentially find out more about games.”

“You can see where people are in relation to your location, their five most recently played games and also gifts that they’ve registered,” he continued. “This is fairly cool because it exposes users to games they might not have heard of and you can see how popular those games are and how people are rating them.”

Rogers explained the gifting system this way: “Imagine user A visits locations one to ten through that day, and they get home and sync with the server and it uploads to the Near server your ten locations that you’ve been to.

“User B comes along, does the same thing, but at some point in User B’s day they passed User A’s location five, which means they’re now able to collect gifts that that user’s dropped. That comes into the Near application and then in-game they pick up those gifts.”

Party is a feature similar to the Xbox LIVE service by the same name. It allows users to form a group and chat with one another irrespective of what game they’re currently playing. “You can have different Party groups for different games or genres. Maybe you’ve got a first-person shooter group that you can all chat and go into.”

LiveArea and Activity are integrated features. LiveArea is a hub that contains three modes, Index, Live and Game. There, players view information and other people’s activities, as well as publish messages.

Activity is a way for players to discuss progress. Content such as trophies and ratings are automatically posted to the player’s Activity feed. “That encourages people to then comment similar to Facebook-style,” presumed Rogers.

The LiveArea can be updated by developers and publishers. “When you ship the game it's got the standard LiveArea that you bake into the game card,” he said. Through updates, publishers and developers can “push data to users” by placing images and announcements on the front page. “It's a good way to push DLC”, Rogers suggested, but warned content providers that “it's important not to spam users too much and to use it sensibly.”

Rogers offered no explanation as to how developers might pull all these features together, saying instead, “We're generally open to innovation.”

Sony Computer Entertainment Europe is expected to announce a launch date for the PlayStation Vita in August.