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Sony Tiptoes Into Tablet Town, Slinking Behind Apple

Sony is seriously considering jumping into the tablet PC game, according to some news leaked out via a company spokesman, and not just because of the iPad. Is this the beginning of the end of the e-reader?

sony tablet

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Sony is seriously considering jumping into the tablet PC game, according to some news leaked out via a company spokesman, and not just because of the iPad. Is this the beginning of the end of the e-reader?

Speaking in an interview this week, as reported by Bloomberg, Sony’s SVP of IT Products Mike Abary noted that Sony had actually been exploring this market “for a number of years,” because of the “interesting opportunities” the marketspace offers. Though it sounds a bit like spin from an iPad also-ran, Sony does have giant research units like many other big high-tech firms, and it has been pushing out innovative, if strange (and here I’m thinking of the Vaio P) computers for a while. It’s just a shame that Sony wasn’t brave enough to actually forge into this new computing arena earlier, where it could’ve been a field leader.

Now Sony’s making public noises to show that it is aware of the excitement in this field, stirred up by a competitor: Apple. “The iPad has created a new opportunity,” Abrams said (stating the bloody obvious, you might think), and, “Now we can get a good judgment as to whether the market is truly accepting of it.” Which suggests Sony is still being overly cautious about the risks involved (it’s “not convinced” the market is large enough” to warrant a Sony Tablet). Meanwhile, Apple is creating a market, selling units at an astonishing rate and even having difficulty keeping up with demand, so it’s had to stagger its international launch.

Abary noted that Sony will maintain its focus on e-readers, which sounds like in his mind the e-reader and tablet markets are parallel. In truth the tablet market is like a super-set of the e-reader market, and as I’ve noted before, it’s likely to ring the death knell for the e-reader market just as the devices reach some serious levels of consumer awareness. Abary even noted that the Sony Readers were the fastest-rising product type in the last fiscal year…a number worth looking at carefully, since last year wasn’t the best in consumer electronics sales, and “fastest rising” from a small start among a stagnant economy doesn’t mean much. Abary did note that Sony was pushing for e-readers that have better battery life and color e-ink displays, and that makes it sound like Sony is chasing the long tail of this market, supplying high quality products to a niche market long after the tech has moved on (a classic Sony maneuver, when you consider it was still selling consumer-facing portable mini-disc players until last year).

But despite Sony’s cautious words, you can probably place a reliable bet that it will, sooner rather than later, step into the tablet PC fray … possibly with a unique Sony twist, like its late-arriving non-netbook netbooks. But still–it will. And that point may mark the very first slice in the death-by-a-thousand-cuts of the e-reader.

To keep up with this news follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter. That QR code on the left will take your smartphone to my Twitter feed too.

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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)

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