Sony wants to be No.1 Android tablet

Japanese consumer electronics vendor betting on design innovation and cross-device connectivity to achieve goal of taking pole position among all Android tablet players by 2012, says top company exec.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

SINGAPORE--Japanese consumer electronics giant Sony, which plans to release its first two tablet computers later this year, believes it has what it takes to become the No. 1 maker of Android tablets--despite its late entry into the market.

Kunimasa Suzuki, president of Sony's Vaio and mobile business group, said the company aims to win over the tablet market with what he described as four "uniquely Sony" features: optimally designed hardware and software; swift and smooth performance; network entertainment; and cross-device connectivity.

Despite the slew of Android-powered tablets already available in the market today, Suzuki told ZDNet Asia that he did not think Sony was late to the tablet game. He acknowledged, however, that it is not among the first and attributed the gap to the company's focus on developing new apps for its tablets. The executive was speaking to ZDNet Asia during his visit here Tuesday for the launch of Sony's new Vaio Z series.

In late-April, Sony announced plans to release two Android Honeycomb-powered tablets, codenamed S1 and S2, in the second half of 2011.

During the Consumer Electronics Show held in January, Suzuki said "[Sony would] really like to take the No.2 position in the tablet market by 2012" in a report by ZDNet Asia's sister site CNet News.

Asked why Sony was not aiming to be No. 1 in the tablet market, Suzuki said it is only "practical" to look at the market share outside of Apple. However, he said Sony could "potentially" lead all Android tablet players but declined to name which tablet player the company is targeting to overtake.

That said, he added that his primary focus is not about becoming No. 1 or No.2 in the market, and grabbing the biggest market share is not his main objective.

Instead, Suzuki pointed to innovation as more important than focusing on market share and this mindset is applied across all its product segments including notebooks, tablets and even televisions. The company's Vaio notebook series, for instance, is not No. 1 in terms of notebook market share but has won many fans, he said.

So while other tablet makers might have a clear rival in mind, Sony will continue to focus on improving user experience and the design of its tablets, he noted. "We don't copy what other people are doing," he added.

App ecosystem important to drive tablets
Suzuki agreed that the application ecosystem is important in driving the growth of tablets, adding that Sony's tablets will leverage Android Market.

He revealed that there is "strong expectation" for third-party developers to make S1 and S2 successful. Even Google's senior vice president of mobile, Andy Rubin, is expecting Sony to be successful, he said, pointing to Rubin's attendance at Sony's tablet announcement in April.

Suzuki declined to say if the company had plans to operate a dedicated appstore but noted that operators are already able to run their own appstores inside the Android Market.

He added that developers need a large install base to justify developing for a platform.

Sony mobile PCs to remain premium
While the company will soon enter the tablet market, Suzuki noted that the portable tablet device remains a "small" part of Sony's overall mobile PC product family.

During his presentation at the Vaio Z launch, he noted that the netbook market, which saw a boom in 2009, will be cannibalized by tablet computers. However, he noted that growth in the tablet market will still be smaller than that of notebook PCs which will see demand coming from emerging markets.

While he agreed that consumers in Asia-Pacific's emerging markets are price-sensitive, Suzuki noted that Sony will not focus on low-end devices and will continue to build its foothold in the premium space.

Using Singapore as an example of a developed market, he said a Sony laptop that is considered mid-range in the city-state will be considered as a premium product in other emerging markets. The company has "many Vaio fans" in emerging markets, he said, adding that such buyers include those who are cash-rich, corporate executives and users who are heavy mobile users.

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