Sony has faced quite a bit of adversity as of late. Despite overall Xperia phone shipments being up, Sony's fourth quarter earnings report from 2011 was dripping in red ink. They recently acquired their mobile partner, Ericsson, and will soon finalize the appointment of a new president and CEO, Kazuo Hirai. Now with the weight of deep loses on his shoulders, Hirai has some pretty big decisions to make, else the captain will be sinking with his shiny, new ship.
Just last Sunday, I wrote a piece explaining how Sony's main efforts moving forward in 2012 will be on user experience and no so much on hardware. We're not 100 percent sure if this will be specifically for their gaming systems, laptops, TVs, mobile devices or all of the above. But what we do know, is that Sony Ericsson has had very little presence in the smartphone realm in comparison to fan favorites like HTC, Samsung, Motorola and LG.
That's not to say that they aren't capable of creating high-end devices worthy of praise. But they always seem to be a day late and a dollar short. Sony just announced their first dual-core smartphones heading into CES this year, while other OEMs will soon move into the quad-core sector.
Late last week, AV Watch reported that Sony may be considering their newly released Vita OS for their new mobile platform, possibly in the place of Android. Jeff Blagdon of The Verge reports, "Hirai told reporters at a Q&A session that the company doesn't want us to forget Vita OS as a mobile (i.e. not just gaming) platform." Senior Vice President Yoshio Matsumoto went on to say:
"if you’re asking if we've made it in a way that’s expandable, so that it’s possible to apply to smartphones and tablets on top of achieving the high responsiveness we need for gaming devices — it is possible." Furthermore, "that doesn't mean that we’re applying it to smartphones and tablets at this point in time, but it’s been designed with expandability in mind."
Sony's deputy president Kunimasa Suzuki responded to a question on the possibility of smartphone apps being ported to Vita OS by saying, "that’s exactly why we’re going to be putting energy into building up PlayStation Suite this year."
So far, neither Sony's Xperia phones or PlayStation Suite have been much of a success. More or less, I view them as noble efforts that have simply come up short in one way or another. And I fear further efforts in Android may lead to similar results. There is simply too much competition and not enough room for differentiation for Sony. (Well, there's room. But Sony doesn't seem to care to push for it.)
My article asking if anyone is interested in what Sony is doing in the mobile space anymore only further solidified my presumptions. Very few people care. Fighting fire with fire doesn't seem to be working for them.
Sony needs to change it up and bring something different to the market, something that can actually turn heads and make techies drool a little bit. The PS Vita has had no problems doing just that, yet it will only appeal to a niche market. Not everyone cares to lug around a dedicated gaming device when they have smartphones and tablets that are capable of very similar gaming – for a lot less cash at that.
Mobile gaming is clearly on the rise, though, and most smartphones and tablets fall short when it comes to the gaming experience we long for on portable devices. Touchscreen controls will never be easy to use or practical, and the slew of $0.99 games available only have so much to offer. For the true gamer, there is little out there that covers all the bases without jumping to a full-fledged portable console like the PS Vita.
Sony needs to completely abandon their Android efforts – for now, at least – in favor of Vita OS, and exploit mobile gaming the right way. They should build a Vita-like smartphone with the ability to detach the controls and carry the device as just a phone, not solely a gaming device. (This would be similar to something I wrote a few months ago, the Sony PlayStation Control Shell concept, which would turn your Android phone into a PSP-like device.)
Vita OS still needs quite a bit of work (The Verge did a pretty good job of explaining the shortcomings in their Vita review), but has serious potential. Once it is a little more polished and well-rounded, they could even license Vita OS and control the software and minimum hardware requirements much like Microsoft does with Windows Phone partners. This could lead to a family of outsourced PlayStation phones with some topnotch hardware. If nothing else, it could appeal to mobile gamers and smartphone enthusiasts while giving Sony differentiation and supplementary income via licensing fees. The only problem then would be getting other OEMs to jump on board with Vita OS.
But, hey, licensing isn't must. Differentiation is priority.
Should Sony scrap efforts in Android and focus on their own platform? Would you buy a phone running Vita OS with the ability to add or remove the dedicated gaming controls? What do you think Sony should do?
Image via The Verge