Sony aims for No. 2 spot in tablet devices

LAS VEGAS (Reuters) – Sony Corp aims to slide in behind Apple Inc as the world’s second-largest maker of tablet devices by 2012, a senior executive said on Thursday, adding that a PlayStation phone was also a potential opportunity.
Separately, Sony CEO Howard Stringer denied he was a candidate for the chairmanship of the BBC, after a media report said last month he had been approached about the post.
Sony, considered a laggard in some areas of high-end consumer electronics, surprised some by not unveiling a tablet rival to Apple’s iPad at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas .
Competitors including Samsung — whose Galaxy Tab is out and being called by some analysts a potential iPad killer — and Research in Motion — which is getting positive early reviews for its PlayBook demonstrated here on Wednesday — are pushing ahead.
But computer division head Kunimasa Suzuki said the company had ambitions to catch up quickly.
“For sure iPad is the king of tablets. But what is the second, what is the third? Who is taking the second position? That is our focus,” Suzuki said. “We would like to really take the number two position in a year.”
Stringer said the company was biding its time and considering whether the tablet offering should have 3D capability. “If I want to differentiate it from others, do I release it tomorrow, or do I wait till I differentiate it?”
After Sony disappointed some investors by not unveiling a new tablet, an analyst said it would be difficult for the electronics maker to achieve its goal of becoming the world’s No.2 in tablet devices by 2012.
“Many electronics makers have already unveiled tablet devices since last year, and it would be extremely difficult to come up with products that are different from the others and to steal market share from the far-and-away front-runner, Apple,” said T.I.W. senior analyst Takao Hattori.
“To attract consumers, Sony would have to come up with features that are totally unexpected,” Hattori said.
Sony’s Suzuki said he saw casual and social gaming as an area of interest for Sony, adding that a rumoured PlayStation phone was “one potential opportunity”, but declined to comment further.
A series of media reports have focused on 68-year-old Stringer’s career prospects, with one saying part of his responsibilities would be hived off to another executive as Sony seeks to groom a successor. Last month, Britain’s Daily Telegraph said he had been approached to become chairman of the BBC.
“I am not a candidate,” Stringer told reporters at the CES on Thursday. “I’m not worried about the future. I am still very excited about what we’re doing here. For me, this is the culmination of a dream that started five years ago.”
Analysts said Stringer, who took the helm at Sony five years ago, deserves credit for pushing through necessary job and cost cuts and for trying to pull the sprawling conglomerate’s diverse units together to leverage its unique combination of content and technology.
But the company has fallen behind Apple in innovations that seize the public imagination and lost ground to South Korean rivals in the flat-panel television market.
Stringer, who is expected to stand down in 2013, joked that a lifetime award for technology he was set to receive later on Thursday inspired somber thoughts.
“That does suggest, I agree, it’s over,” he said. “Actually, I already have a lifetime achievement award in media from the Emmys too. That was ten years ago, so it doesn’t mean it’s over.”
Sony’s shares slid 0.3 percent to 3,000 yen in morning Tokyo trade, while the benchmark Nikkei 225 average shed 0.2 percent.