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The Playstation Vita is unlikely to improve Sony’s fortunes

Column The gaming device will be trumped by smartphones
Fri Feb 10 2012, 17:00
kateopic

kateopicJAPANESE ELECTRONICS FIRM Sony's fortunes have gone from bad to worse this year after appointing a new CEO and subsequently doubling its loss forecast.

The firm had already had its fair share of trouble, after a raft of scandals and a move to take over its dying smartphone joint venture with Ericsson.

Perhaps the final nail in the coffin for the loss making-firm will be its Playstation Vita gaming device, which has great specifications but has come too late, as users can now get a similar experience on their smartphones that they couldn't get a few years ago.

Rewind 10 years, and things were looking somewhat more promising for Sony. The first and second generation Playsations did well and Sony's TVs were sought after. Even five years ago, its mobile phone partnership Sony Ericsson was doing pretty well and had made the top five manufacturers list.

But Sony Ericsson's success in mobile phones didn't last. Its foray into the smartphone market suffered from numerous issues and it earned a reputation for selling poor quality phones.

So it's no surprise that the joint venture eventually broke up - that had been on the cards for some time. But sales of the Xperia range of smartphones had even started to pick up by the time Sony and Ericsson split. The Arc and Play handsets have had relative success, so Sony at least has something to build on when it launches its own phones, it'll just have to take the financial hit at first.

The firm has missed the boat with the Playstation Vita, which is certainly no phone. The handheld console, which is admittedly a little too large, packs some great specifications. It has a quad-core processor with a 5in screen, a multi-touch pad, and even 3G capabilities, but in a year's time mobile phones could be boasting similar specs.

The Vita is just too little and too late. The firm's other handheld device, the PSP, was loved by many but the company should have used its popularity to build what punters wanted - a Playstation phone.

The idea of a Playstation phone was first touted a few years ago, and the gaming community really did go mad for it. Sony could use the Playstation network to integrate devices, they said, allowing users to play games at home or on the move.

Unfortunately Sony only got as far as releasing the Xperia Play last year, about three years too late. Fans had lost interest, and the integration wasn't as close as people wanted because apparently Sony didn't want its Playstation brand used on Sony Ericsson phones. The joint venture had already done enough to ruin its Walkman and Cybershot brands.

The Vita doesn't go any further toward fitting into the gap that Sony should have filled a few years ago by making a full-on gaming smartphone. Instead, the gaming device is now competing against all smartphones, which are now so advanced in their gaming credentials that there is no need for a separate device.

What's more, why would you pay £250 plus for an extra gaming device, then pay £40 per game, when you could just pay £4 for an HD 3D game on your mobile phone? Meanwhile, quad-core mobile phones are on the cards this year, so when it comes to power the Vita soon won't even be able to out-do the humble smartphone.

Sony has also suffered from its fair share of scandals, most recently when its Playstation network was hacked. Earlier than that, in 2006, a laptop blew up in Japan, and who could forget the events of 2005, when it was discovered that Sony's CDs had a rootkit on them.

For balance let's give Sony some credit. Its camera business is doing relatively well since it bought out Minolta in 2005, and it did win in the DVD follow-on format wars with Blu-ray.

However, as consumers are not that interested in physical media any more - look at e-books and online streaming - it's something of a hollow victory.

In other areas of the business, its VAIO laptop range is liked, its TV range is okay, but then would you choose Samsung or LG over Sony? Probably.

The company does have some room to bring itself back with its smartphones under the Sony range, as well as the tablets, which at the least differentiate themselves from the competition with their unique appearance.

Sony also has a new CEO, Kazuo Hirai, who is credited for his work in the Playstation business and has already affirmed the company's commitment to TVs.

And perhaps Sony will find a way to pull itself back from the brink and maybe the integration it has promised in its Sony Online Service will now start to happen. However, again, it's a little late to the party, as Samsung and LG are already well on the road when it comes to convergence of their TVs and smartphones.

It will be interesting to see how the Vita does, but judging from the way the Nintendo 3DS bombed, and the growth of smartphone gaming, it's not going to be a winner. µ

 

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