Sony Considers Developing a Tablet Computer to Compete With Apple's IPad
“We have been taking a deep look at developing a tablet for a number of years, not just because of Apple but because it creates some interesting opportunities,” Mike Abary, senior vice president of Sony’s Information Technology Products unit, said in an interview this week in San Francisco.
Electronics manufacturers have renewed interest in tablet- style computers now that Apple, which sold 1 million iPads in less than a month after its debut, has shown it’s possible to build portable devices with big touch screens and long battery life at a low cost. Sony wants more proof of consumer demand before pressing ahead with production plans, Abary said.
“The iPad has created a new opportunity,” Abary said. “Now we can get a good judgment as to whether the market is truly accepting of it.” Sony is “not convinced there is a large enough market to justify bringing out a tablet,” he said.
The remarks dispel speculation that Sony would quickly follow Apple, Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Inc. and other PC makers into the market for tablets. On March 5, the Wall Street Journal reported that Sony was developing a lineup of handheld products, including a portable device that shares characteristics of netbooks, electronic-book readers and handheld-gaming machines, citing people familiar with the matter it didn’t identify.
Focus On Reader
For now, Sony plans to keep investing in its Reader line of devices that display digital books, Abary said. The company is trying to narrow a gap with Amazon.com Inc., maker of the Kindle, which leads the market for devices that are tailored mainly for reading books and magazines electronically.
Sony doesn’t disclose Reader sales, but Abary said e- readers were the company’s fastest growing type of product in its most recent fiscal year.
U.S. sales of digital reading devices will rise to 5 million this year from 2.2 million in 2009, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, a trade group. Sales of digital books in the U.S. more than doubled to $313 million last year, according to the Association of American Publishers.
Sony’s Reader division aims to improve wireless connectivity and battery life, Abary said. The company also is working with suppliers to develop e-readers that can display colors instead of rendering pages in monochrome.
Its current supplier, E Ink Corp., owned by Taiwanese display maker Prime View International Co., has said it will offer color technology by early 2011. Chipmaker Qualcomm Inc. has been shopping a similar e-ink technology called Mirasol.
A Boston Consulting Group survey of 13,000 Internet users in 14 countries found two-thirds of respondents favored devices capable of doing more than one task. The survey, conducted in March, found that the biggest barrier to adoption for both e- readers and tablets is prices perceived as too high.
That creates a dilemma for Sony. Though it has long been shut out of the list of top five PC vendors in the world, the company’s Vaio division has maintained profitability by concentrating on more expensive configurations for well-heeled customers. The company has avoided jumping into crowded markets that are under heavy pressure to cut prices.
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