Sony Aiming High And Working For It

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We heard a rumor last week that Sony is working on new handhelds to compete with devices such as the iPad. Sounds like a good idea: a PSP with built-in telephony and e-book functionality could perhaps give anyone in the market a run for their money. But I’m a little skeptical – Sony’s CLIÉ line once defined cutting-edge PDAs, but the company ceded the market to Palm long before the PDA was finally reborn as a smartphone. If Sony is serious about returning to the handheld space, here are some lessons it could learn from its efforts in the PDA era.

1. Innovation is great, but only if you are truly innovative. Sony was a leader in the innovation market when it entered the PDA space. It provided the first Palm OS devices with removable media, the first devices capable of playing Audio and video, and the first high-resolution color devices. All this has clearly boosted the market. Then the innovations became less innovative and more “gimmicky”.”There were 3D interfaces for the launcher that were confusing and cumbersome. Some devices supported Bluetooth, but others did not. Devices like the NZ-90 added so many features to the mix that it was big, bloated and almost useless.* In short, the innovations became less convincing and ended up standing in the way. I am afraid that Sony will interfere with the type of functionality that is said to be its new device without thinking about how everything should work together.

2. Frequent product updates are good, but not every week. Sony launched more new devices from 2002 to 2004 than any other device manufacturer – the joke in the industry was that it was Tuesday, so it must be time for another new Clié. It was impossible to know what to buy or why to buy it. The buyers’ contritions were high because users quickly learned to wait for the sequel – there is nothing worse than spending on a cool new Gadget, and then replacing it with something better, faster and affordable in less than a month. Retailers were confused and couldn’t get the models through as quickly as Sony had released them. Buyers were faced with the “Akihabara” syndrome of too many decisions, without direction.

3. Concept Cars are cool to look at, but not good to drive. Eye-catching concept cars at car shows are neat, but there is a reason why they are not published: they are impractical, and it would cost too much to make them. But Sony’s PDAs looked like concept cars; devices like the NZ-90 and the UX-50 were awesome technical feats. The problem is that the masses did not buy them, and the amount spent by Sony on its hyped processor “Handheld Engine” could never have been recovered. Palm focused on a number of basic features and refined them at lower prices, which is why the Treo, Tungsten and Zire lines sold as well as the Clié.

I hope Sony will launch new handhelds and do it right. I would like to see a new generation of wearable devices that advance the state of the art and show us things that would have been impossible in the past. In all my reviews, Sony’s Handhelp products have often shown a level of creativity and design that you simply could not achieve in another mediocre cloned Design. With a real focus, a better understanding of the market and some lessons from the past, Sony could be a real competitor in the field of handhelds. Will Sony deliver the next PSP or just another Mylo? Just wait and see.

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