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Sony wants to become your digital personal assistant as it seeks to secure a future for its mobile division beyond smartphones.
The Japanese technology group unveiled a range of smart products at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which it hopes will help revive a mobile business that has struggled in recent years.
These include a so-called lifeblogging camera, in-ear headset, projector and a home hub for connected appliances to work alongside a new range of smartphones called the X series. All of these devices will come with a measure of artificial intelligence built in to them.
Sony is one of a number of smartphone makers seeking to define the next stage of the smartphone market’s development, as the widespread adoption of mobile phones has seen sales growth slow.
VR has been the key theme at this year’s MWC, where a wide range of companies such as Samsung and HTC have been showing off headsets and cameras. But Sony has decided to wait until after the launch of its platform, which will be based on its PlayStation gaming device, because the company is unsure how widely applicable the technology is today.
Hiroki Totoki, chief executive of Sony Mobile, said the company could produce the same sort of virtual reality headsets as its rival electronics groups but that a mainstream use had not yet been found.
“We can do it today,” he told the Financial Times. “The real issue is content. The device is ready, accessories are ready but the content is not ready. The use case is key to developing a real market. We have to think about the use case and then the device otherwise it becomes a gadget that gets thrown anyway in 2-3 weeks.”
Sony has instead focused on bringing a greater degree of artificial intelligence to products mostly otherwise already available.
Several of these products were revealed in Barcelona alongside a new smartphone called the Xperia X. This handset improves on previous generations of smartphone from Sony by improving its camera, processors and extending its battery life.
However, Sony’s shift into smarter wearables and connected home services is likely to spark the most excitement among analysts. The company plans to push the Xperia brand into a number of markets outside its core smartphone franchise with a “smart” headset, camera and projector.
The company has built a small bluetooth connected earpiece that can provide help with directions, advice on the weather or updates from social media and emails when asked by its user. A small connected wearable camera called the Eye is similarly voice activated but can also film automatically.
Sony has also developed a smart projector that will be able to beam content on to a wall or table that can be touched and moved. For example, a clock could be projected on a wall that can react to different users by alerting them to the events in their calendar.
The company will bring together some of these functions in a single box called Agent, which is designed to work as a hub to control connected appliances. Sony said the machine would learn from use, meaning that it could help a household function based on personal habits, while also featuring a projector and camera.
Mr Totoki wants to use its various devices as a platform to launch an internet of things service to businesses. This could involve selling a service to a healthcare business using its ranges of smart bands, cloud processing and data analytics. Sony will create a specific internet of things team in Europe this spring to pursue this business, he said.
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