Sony is finally getting into the Android tablet game, announcing on Tuesday two new Honeycomb tablets expected to launch this fall. Codenamed the S1 and S2, both devices will offer a unique design style. The S1 resembles a folded magazine for easier handling, while the S2 sports a pair of 5.5-inch displays in a clamshell form factor. Sony hopes to leverage its media ecosystem and connectivity with other Sony digital devices to help its new tablets stand out from the Android crowd.
Both tablets will support Sony’s Qriocity music service for audio and video and are compatible with Sony’s PlayStation Suite for playing first-generation PSP titles, much like the Sony Ericsson Xperia Play handset. The tablets can access the Sony Reader store for e-books, and of course, can use the Google Android Market for third-party applications. The S1 can double as a remote control for Sony BRAVIA television sets by way of an integrated infrared radio or share media through DLNA support.
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From early looks at the two devices, Sony appears to be doing everything right: unique design, a wide ecosystem of supporting activities and compatibility with other household devices. But that won’t guarantee success, because two factors are out of Sony’s — and every other Android tablet maker’s — control.
For starters, Honeycomb is still buggy and, as I argued last week, has been surpassed by the hardware it runs on. Google needs to make the Android tablet platform better performing, more usable and more stable. The second issue is that developers haven’t yet embraced Honeycomb to build tablet-optimized applications, which is going to take time. That actually could bode well for Sony, which unlike LG, Samsung, Acer, ASUS and others, is waiting until the fall to enter the tablet market, and the Honeycomb situation could improve considerably between now and then.
One other aspect that challenges Honeycomb tablet sales is the connectivity option. Some consumers balk at purchasing a tablet while committing to a two-year data plan contract. Sony says both the S1 and S2 “are WiFi and WWAN (3G/4G) compatible,” which indicates these devices will be sold through cellular carriers, or sold direct through Sony and tied to carrier plans.
Clearly, it’s too early to peg Sony’s S1 and S2 as either successes or failures. By fall, the tablet market will have matured, and it’s highly likely Honeycomb will have as well. Assuming that does happen, Sony is at least lining up its devices to be ready, and doing its best to make sure the factors that are under its control are taken care of.