Analysis Incoming Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai doesn't have too long to prove himself before shareholders get restive again. Of course, his big challenge is in the TV business*, but he has also spotted the chance to do, belatedly, what rival Samsung has been putting together for years – creating a true multiscreen apps and content platform by extending a common user experience across all Sony's devices and stores.
Taking full control of the handset venture Sony Ericsson is a good start, but at the heart of the push for the consumer's content experience from the living room to the phone lies the still-powerful PlayStation brand.
Sony has already merged its PlayStation online gaming service into its broader online platform, a move which happened this week, and has rebranded the whole system as Sony Entertainment Network.
That was the latest in a string of actions to make PlayStation a central part of the whole Sony business – last year, it combined all its consumer electronics, game consoles and network platforms into a single division, and now it states its aims as being to establish "a global comprehensive network platform of services across games, movies, music and more".
This may involve extending the operating system which underpins the new PlayStation Vita portable console to non-games devices to increase their appeal in gaming-related areas such as rich graphics and interactivity. This may, over time, dilute the handset commitment to Android. Just as Sony is expected to integrate smartphones more closely into its wider family of devices and content platforms, it may also put Vita OS on some of its phones.
In a recent discussion with reporters, Hirai said that the OS on the new PlayStation Vita console was designed to be "expandable", and would be suitable for smartphones and tablets. Vita already blurs the lines with tablets and other wireless-enabled Sony gadgets by including embedded 3G and selling partly through carriers like Vodafone.
Now Sony is looking to make its gaming brand a more integral part of its overall media offering, converging the PlayStation Network with other stores and services, and perhaps creating a controlled OS and user experience for multiple gadgets.
Sony has often been accused of failing to capitalise effectively on the PlayStation brand in the mobile world, partly because internal politics with Sony Ericsson delayed the launch of a PSP handset. Last year finally saw the Xperia Play, but the brand was diluted and the games themselves also made available to other Android vendors.
Hirai said, according to CNet: "If you're asking if we've made it in a way that's expandable, so that it's possible to apply to smartphones and tablets on top of achieving the high responsiveness we need for gaming devices, then that is possible. It's been designed with expandability in mind."
However, he stressed there were no immediate plans for Vita OS tablets or handsets. The Vita sports a 5-inch OLED touchscreen, high-quality graphics close in quality to those of the PlayStation 3, and many preloaded apps such as Facebook and Skype.
* Reuters reported that the combined losses of Panasonic, Sony and Sharp Corp is expected to hit $17 billion this year, thanks to the success of South Korea's Samsung and LG.
Copyright © 2012, Faultline
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