Pressing reset on Sony TVs (Q&A)

Sony's Mike Abary talks with CNET about the future of PlayStation integration, the iPad, Google TV, and Sony's blunders in the TV business.

The approaching summer needs to be a blockbuster one for Sony.

Once the star of the consumer electronics business, the company has had a lot of catching up to do lately. But it could make up some significant ground if two of its big initiatives for the summer, 3D TV and its new Google TV-based Sony Internet TV, grab the attention of consumers.

The company has struggled with its core business, the TV, the past few years. Once the most influential in the area, the company has lost market share to Samsung, and has been lapped on bringing some new technologies to the mainstream by LG, Samsung, and others.

But by getting in on the Google TV bandwagon before its competitors gives Sony a fresh start. The first devices are scheduled to hit Best Buy and Sony stores this fall. But in June the company's big push to launch 3D TV begins. Sony's 3D HDTVs hit stores next month. Then Sony is partnering with ESPN to broadcast the World Cup in 3D beginning June 11, and later in the summer will launch a new 3D Discovery Channel with IMAX.

And they've reshuffled the personnel deck a bit too. One of the people charged with shepherding the 3D and Google TV efforts is Mike Abary. Starting June 1, Abary will leave his position as the head of the Vaio PC division and assume the role of senior vice president for Sony Electronics Home Division, which includes overseeing the TV and home entertainment products businesses. Abary's predecessor Hiro Kawano gets a new title too, as the head of Sony Computer Entertainment of Japan.

Abary has been with Sony since 2000, and this is his first foray outside the company's Vaio PC division. He spent a few minutes Friday chatting with CNET about his vision for Sony TV and Blu-ray products, Google TV, the company's competing content channels, and Apple's impact with the iPad.

Here is an edited version of that conversation.

Sony Mike Abary
Mike Abary assumes his new role overseeing the TV and home video businesses as senior vice president for Sony Electronics Home Division. Sony

Q: How do you feel about leaving Vaio and moving on to the consumer electronics?
Abary: I'm excited. And the reason why is my perspective is this: I see the two worlds really converging a lot. Especially recently, let's say the last couple years. I see so many similarities between the PC and the TV business. But what's interesting is this: You have to have a slightly different mindset in PCs because Moore's Law exists and we have three or four product refreshes a year, based on the ecology of the category. So the things in that area associated with the PC or technology like speed and innovation, my intention is to bring those things with me to the TV and (home audio and video) categories. And I also really want to bring a lot of...aggressiveness that is normally associated with the PC to the consumer electronics parts of our company.

You're saying you're going to be bringing this, which implies that that wasn't there before. Can you talk more about the specific problems you've identified that you're going to tackle?
We've obviously lost share to our competition in the TV category over the years. We've been, I guess, accused of being late in certain technologies like LED versus our competition. That area, those things, are what my focus is going to be on going forward with the TV category. As an example I would like to take a really close look at certain segments within TV and take a real leadership role in 3D. (Sony Internet TV) is a second example. These are areas that I feel Sony should lead in the industry and it will be my objective to get us there.

Do you have a timeline that you're working on to get there?
I'm going to work on it effectively immediately. As an example with Sony Internet TV, we're first to market. We will be the first TV with Google TV platform. We will launch by this fall. My job basically is to ensure it is a successful launch, but also to ensure that we take advantage of...our first mover advantage and convert that into a sustainable leadership position from the day that we launched on forward. And we'll be doing that through differentiation, through the leveraging of our sister companies, we'll be doing that through aggressive development of our first party platform like Qriocity, (Bravia Internet Link), but also in the development of applications that are yet to come (for Google TV).

Regarding Google TV, the Blu-ray player you're making , is that a whole new product or an update to existing players?
At this point we haven't disclosed any product information about that. So I'd rather wait until we have the product details. But you can expect us, as was announced, that we'll have a Blu-ray player with Google TV platform.

At the Google TV launch you said Qriocity and PlayStation Network and Bravia Internet will be in the same user interface on Sony Internet TV . First, is PSN the same thing as Qriocity here?
PSN is more gaming-focused, Qriocity is going to be more consumer-focused with the availability of video. There are commonalities, but they're different audiences that they're targeted towards.

Then can you talk about how the PS3 ties into your overall vision for the home entertainment division?
PS3 will remain separate and autonomous to my new responsibilities...However, my intention is this: I'm going to leverage and continue to reinforce the relationship between our home division here at Sony Electronics with the PlayStation group. I think there are certain things, certain synergies we can really establish together that I visualize that we have not yet executed upon . Those things though are yet to be detailed out. Right now they're really concepts in my mind, but I do see opportunities.

In the joint press release from Google and Sony regarding Google TV there was talk of a broader relationship regarding more products with Android . Are there going to be other Sony products that we're going to see coming out of your division with any Google OS on it?
I'll repeat what Howard (Stringer) said: "One product at a time." We started off with Sony Ericsson, the Experia X10. That product has done really well in Japan. This is the second platform that we're incorporating Android into, the TV. So you can see that we're moving forward and progressing, but it is one product at a time.

The question is what's the speed at which we'll be doing more things with Google and what's the extent? These things are still yet to be defined at this point. The two products, which are fairly significant, a smartphone plus our Google TV announcement, are fairly significant categories for Sony.

Looking to the future, what are you guys talking about internally when it comes to a touch-screen tablet? Are we going to see a touch-screen tablet?
I got to tell you, Erica, we're still considering it. Now that doesn't mean that we're undecided. I think that there's certain things we still need to evaluate in the marketplace to determine what we will come up with.

So you're still looking at features? Or whether this is actually a market you want to be in?
It's month No. 1 for the iPad, right? I absolutely respect the numbers (Apple has) produced, it's quite phenomenal. But it is early. And so what we want to do is we want to continue to figure out whether it's a sustainable consumer market or whether this is a quick success...Once we determine that, which should be very quickly, we'll also move very quickly in execution.

About the author

Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.

 

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