CES: Sony's tablet not aiming to be an iPad killer

Sony officially says that it's working on a tablet, but it's not ready yet. Still, the company has big plans to play catch up to the iPad sometime next year.

Erica Ogg Former Staff writer, CNET News
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.
Erica Ogg
3 min read
Howard Stringer at Sony's press event Wednesday evening.
Howard Stringer at Sony's press event Wednesday evening. James Martin/CNET

LAS VEGAS--The tablet Sony has plans to release stands out at CES because it's actually not here, but mostly because Sony appears to stand alone in that it isn't positioning it as an iPad killer.

The company briefly noted that it's got a tablet in the works during yesterday's press conference.

"We'd really like to take the No. 2 position (in the tablet market) by 2012," Kunimasa Suzuki, deputy president of Sony, said at a roundtable discussion with company executives here today. Unlike the gobs of Android-powered tablets introduced this week, Sony sounded less determined to dislodge the iPad or its successor in the next two years.

"At this moment, the timing of (those tablet) announcements versus (their) availability today is a different story," said Suzuki. "iPad is the king of tablets for sure. Who is going to be (the) second player?"

He didn't mean second major brand to launch a tablet, because that's generally recognized as Samsung with its Galaxy Tab released last summer. He means the runner-up to Apple in successfully churning out and selling millions of the touch-screen devices.

Aiming for No. 2 can be read as the company lacking in ambition in the area of tablets, or just being realistic.

The not-so-secret thing about most of the really trendy gadgets announced at CES most years is that most don't come out until September, if it all--take, for example, last year's glut of e-reader announcements versus the products that actually appeared on store shelves by the end of 2010.

Finding a way to stand out from the field cluttered with Xooms and G-Slates and Streaks and various other Android-based tablets here is clearly a challenge.

"We see tablets coming out, but we have to put a tablet on the marketplace that is differentiated," Sony Chairman and CEO Howard Stringer added.

That's the ideal of course, to somehow offer a killer feature that your competitors aren't or can't, but how will Sony do that? The company execs were mostly tight-lipped on that front. But we can glean some clues based on the few comments they did make.

"When our tablet comes out it'll have content of its own," Stringer said. "We have television and film studios working very hard to create content specifically for it."

Sony is pushing its Qriocity media platform, which has movies and soon music that users can download to most Sony devices, so perhaps a Sony tablet with its own streaming media service could be in the works. Plus Sony has its own content-making machines in its TV and movie studios, though they haven't historically integrated well with the gadget side of the company. But Stringer's goal has long been to change that.

As far as software, it's not a bad bet that Sony's tablet will run on Android 3.0.

Samsung's Galaxy Tab "was developed on the basis of the Galaxy smartphone, so today from a platform point of view it is easy to show the product, a tablet on the basis of a smartphone platform," said Suzuki.

"This is what Samsung did. We don't know how much they can be successful. As for Sony and Sony Ericsson, we have to have unified strategy yet to come. You will see our product. Yesterday we announced we are making a (tablet) and we really like to take the No. 2 position by 2012."

Clearly Sony isn't interested in any versions of Android 2.0 which is for smartphones. But by waiting a few months, Android 3.0, or Honeycomb, which is being built for tablets specifically, should be fully baked and ready for consumption by tablet manufacturers.