'

What Sony Ericsson's up to: Part I

Things have not been going swimmingly for Sony Ericsson of late. They barely broke even in the second quarter of this year, have had to lay off thousands of workers, and are struggling to introduce something groundbreaking into the market.

Things have not been going swimmingly for Sony Ericsson of late. They barely broke even in the second quarter of this year, have had to lay off thousands of workers, and are struggling to introduce something groundbreaking into the market. It's no Motorola situation, but it's pretty bleak stuff nonetheless.

Or is it? Over the last couple of days, the manufacturer invited a bunch of hacks, yours truly included, over to Copenhagen in Denmark and Lund in Sweden to check out its various new initiatives. And my, how many there are. Let's see:

PlayNow Arena - Download games, themes, wallpapers and music direct to your phone! From global artists (the presentation showed Jordin Sparks) to "your best local artist" (here the presentation showed Alice In Chains' Dirt album, so this bit may only be relevant to residents of Seattle, 16 years ago)! Big labels signed up (Universal, EMI, Warner, and obviously Sony BMG)! DRM-free! 320Kbps! Supported by lots of handsets soon! Currently only available in the Nordics, but launching in the UK soon! Not to be confused with Nokia's Ovi! Also not to be confused with...

PlayNow Plus - Music subscription cum social networking service! "Breathtaking web-inspired graphics"! Launching in Sweden this year on a single device, with 1000 best-selling songs preloaded! Coming to the UK next year, at some unspecified point! When you leave the service, you get rewarded with DRM-free versions (DRMed up to the eyeballs otherwise, sorry) of your 300 most-listened-to tracks (so why stay?)! Operators will love it, because they get to sell the data tariff to support it (what, flat-rate?)! Er...

The desktop-side client for all this is Windows only. Mac soon, hopefully. Linux... fat chance. So, here we have SE taking aim at iTunes (good luck) and Ovi (itself hardly a resounding success thus far). I may be coming across a little sarky here, and if so that's because none of this stuff is terribly new. It is, however, worth a shot - SE does do UI quite well, it's known for being a music-phone company and frankly, if anyone in the legacy mobile industry can make this work, it's SE. So, good luck. Next!

The Experia X1 - Ostensibly why I went to Scandinavia these last days. I finally got to play around with the damn thing – I've seen non-functioning units plenty of times this year, thanks to SE's possibly unwise decision to announce it back in February, when it was barely out of the concept stage, which led to lots of press speculation about delays. The screen's gorgeous. The panels idea (nine home screens in one! w00t!) is kinda useful but also kinda confusing. It's certainly the coolest WinMob phone I've seen in ages, and its build is pretty awesome, but intuitive is not really the word. More than worth a play-around though.

What worries me about the X1 is SE's lack of commitment to Windows Mobile. While this is certainly understandable in some ways, it does mean developers are unlikely to target the device until SE at least announces another WinMob handset to show they're serious. Even worse, the SE execs speaking at this event were super-noncommittal about the enterprise market as a whole. They sure want to sell to it, but they've not got any plan beyond the X1 – and even that they're pitching somewhere inbetween the consumer and business markets. I'm not really sure where they're going with this, and not sure they're sure either.

Android - "A lot of opportunity", but apparently SE is "not in a position to do this at the moment". Something to do with SE being an "important part of the Symbian Foundation". Makes sense, but then why mention it?

Join me in Part II of this post for some of the future tech stuff we got shown...