Sony launches tablets to rival iPad

Sony launched its first-ever tablet models on Tuesday, joining an increasingly crowded field of Google Android-based competitors to Apple’s successful iPad.

The Japanese electronics group previewed two upcoming models in Tokyo on Tuesday. The first, temporarily named S1, is a 9-inch model with a unique wedge-like shape. The S2 is a foldable, 5-inch device with two screens that is small enough to fit inside a jacket pocket.

The two tablets are part of an attempt by the Japanese company to regain its position as a leader in consumer electronics. Sony pioneered the market for portable media devices – of which the tablet PC is one descendent – with its Walkman music player in the late 1970s, but has failed to come up with similarly revolutionary products in recent years.

Both models will be available from autumn 2011, more than a year since Apple’s iPad was first released. An autumn launch will also mean that Sony is several months later than other Android rivals such as those from Taiwan’s Acer and Asus, China’s Lenovo ‘LePad’, and the second generation of Samsung’s Galaxy Tab.

Atul Goyal, a technology analyst at CLSA, said Sony’s tablets are well-designed but “the real question is, firstly, over its pricing”.

Sony did not disclose how much it would sell its tablets for but the Japanese company had in the past priced many of its products at a premium to its competitors’, a strategy that Mr Goyal believed would not work with the new tablets.

“It needs to be at a discount to or at least match the price of Apple’s iPad,” Mr Goyal said.

A second issue would be how Sony would differentiate its tablets from its competitors. Even though the global tablet market is expected to triple in size this year, Apple’s dominance means that the “non-Apple market would only be about 20 to 30 per cent of the total tablet market”, Mr Goyal said.

One area in which Sony would have an edge over its rivals is in internet services and content. More than 70m users are already signed up to Sony’s PlayStation online network, which the new tablets would be able to access. The tablets will also come with Sony’s Qriocity video and music download service, as well as its Reader Store for e-book content.

“Recently, Sony has figured out that, like Apple, they need to integrate all their devices on to one platform,” Mr Goyal said. Sony can benefit in particular from this strategy because it produces the broadest range of devices among its competitors, from PlayStation game consoles to Bravia televisions to Sony Ericsson mobile phones.

The tablet launch, however, comes at an awkward time for Sony as its PlayStation online network has been off-line for a week after a hacking incident. Sony has said it does not yet know when the services would come back online.

Both tablets run on the latest version of Google’s Android and feature a fast, Arm-based processor designed by Nvidia.

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