Remember when Sony was the innovator?

Sony's CFO says though it's "a little behind," the company would like to be competitive with the iPad. Why weren't they thinking of this before?

Sony Apple iPad
Sony is starting to think about building a competitor to the Apple iPad. James Martin/CNET

Despite finally breaking a year's streak of quarterly losses, Sony's press conference Thursday will likely be remembered mostly for a quote that's already being mocked by tech blogs.

During a press conference to announce its earnings, Sony Chief Financial Officer Nobuyuki Oneda expressed his company's interest in competing in the touch-screen tablet market with Apple. According to ComputerWorld, he said:

"That is a market we are also very interested in. We are confident we have the skills to create a product...Time-wise we are a little behind the iPad but it's a space we would like to be an active player in."

Seems reasonable enough, right? Lots of companies would--and will--follow Apple's lead. It's just the nature of business, and we expect it. But it's important to point out why Sony is being mildly ridiculed for this quote: because in most observers' eyes, this is exactly what's wrong with the company. The gadget maker that used to be at the forefront of innovation is rarely first at anything anymore--with the exception, it should be noted, of the Sony Reader, the first modern e-book reader. But over the past decade they've gotten beat at their own game in several major categories: music players (Apple), televisions (Samsung), and video games consoles (Microsoft and Nintendo).

Granted, Sony is a huge company spread out over several continents that seems continually in the process of figuring out how to get all of its working parts moving together and quickly. It's a problem its executives have at times publicly acknowledged. At a meeting with journalists during CES last month, Chairman and CEO Howard Stringer addressed it directly, promising a new and improved Sony: "Pace and speed to market we couldn't really do as efficiently as we'd like, but now we have the infrastructure to do it. Everything is functional...It's why it looks different than our model from the past. The company is integrated. It's not finished, not perfect, but I think we're becoming a different company."

The fact that they're just now thinking about getting into touch-screen tablets is a sign that maybe Stringer spoke too soon. Apple's other competitors have known this has been coming for a while, and indicated it at CES. HP showed its Slate, and Dell demonstrated a prototype of a 5-inch touch-screen mobile Internet device. Even Google--not a hardware maker--is already thinking about the importance of tablets.

So while Sony says it's getting its act together, it's something we've heard many times before. (See also Stringer's comments at CES 2009.) In other words, don't get your hopes up for a Sony version of the iPad to arrive very soon.

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