Sony Tablet: Smart Move, Good Timing

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Sony’s introduction of its two forthcoming S1 and S2 Android tablets didn’t really come as a surprise. Rumors have floated before about Sony taking this step; to me, it was a matter of when, not if. I’ve seen Sony get flack, including from my colleague Jared Newman, for announcing Sony Tablet now, months ahead of when the tablets will ship and with no price and few details beyond some basic specs. However, this could be a shrewd move on Sony’s part—but only if the company can truly deliver the goods.

The latter is an important point. RIM made the mistake of announcing its BlackBerry PlayBook in September, and then shipped a product that didn’t fulfill its promise six months later. The Motorola Xoom shipped in March, with Motorila promising that it would enable the MicroSD card at a later date. We’re still waiting for that--and for the promised LTE update.

I wasn’t surprised that there was no word on price; the tablet markets is highly competitive and rapidly changing right now, so a lot could change in this department within the next five or six months (depending on Sony's definition of "Fall"). And I could imagine some of the specs—like memory—being nailed down later as Sony gets closer to actual manufacturing, with the final specs depending upon component costs.

As for the fall ship date, Sony may be wise to sit out the fray of the current tablet blitzkrieg. Beyond the Apple iPad 2, none of the tablets launched to date have lived up to their full potential. And this is true for both the RIMPlayBook and the bevy of Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) tablets I’ve tested recently. Some of the issues lie with attractive-but-unfinished operating systems, some with hardware with last year's internals, and some with the sheer lack of software to support to run on the tablet.

Meanwhile, Sony knows a thing or two about the pitfalls of launching a product before it's ready. The company’s gaming arm launched PSP Go with a fraction of the game library available for download. Same for the PlayStation Plus premium online service. And the PlayStation 3 was famously a year behind, delayed in the name of better hardware, only to launch with few games when it did hit.

So maybe this move shows that Sony wants consumers (and its investors) to know the rumors are true, and the company is serious about embracing Android. If the delay between announce and ship means that Sony can take its time with the hardware and software to work out the kinks before it ships, that’ll be a good thing. And, the delay will give Google a chance to hone Android 3.0 and fix the flubs and instabilities. Heck, we may actually have a thriving app ecosystem going by then, too—unlike the paltry hundred-something Android 3.0 apps available today.

As long as Sony ships enticing, competitively spec’d, and well designed tablets in time for the holiday shopping crush, Sony can’t be counted out. t.

In fact, given that Sony has divulged that the Sony Tablet S1 and S2 will play a selection of first-generation PlayStation games via PlayStation Suite, and will work with Sony’s various network services and even other consumer electronics devices like HDTVs and Blu-ray players, I’m seeing bigger potential for future synergy here. And while I’ve seen nothing to suggest this, my mind already has jumped ahead to speculate the “what ifs” were Sony to embrace Android as a console gaming OS in the future.

No harm in musing aloud…tell us what you think in the comments.

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