Sony looks to trump Apple in race for next-gen TV, CEO says

Apple hasn't announced a next-gen TV plan, but that hasn't stopped Sony from promising to trump Apple's TV efforts.

Apple isn't the only company reportedly plotting to revolutionize the television set, Sony is also on the case, according to company CEO Howard Stringer.

Stringer said all major television manufacturers, including Sony, are "scrambling" to figure out what the next generation of televisions should do. "There's a tremendous amount of R&D going into a different kind of TV set," Stringer said at an even hosted by The Wall Street Journal. Stringer also noted that he has "no doubt" that Steve Jobs, Apple's recently deceased co-founder and former CEO, was also hard at work on the problem.

Looking to compete with Apple, Sony is touting its so-called "four screens strategy" that aims to emulate Apple's seamless content sharing and networking capability between devices such as MacBooks, iPads, iPhones and iPods.

Sony's four screens concept, which the company began promoting earlier this year, aims to integrate the company's high definition television sets, tablets, smartphones and PCs. "I spent the last five years building a platform so I can compete against Steve Jobs," Mr. Stringer said during the Journal's event. "It's finished, and it's launching now."

Sony A Serious Challenger

Regardless of Stringer's confidence, you have to ask: would Sony be a serious challenge to Apple? Apple outsells Sony in the PC market in the United States, according to market research firm IDC. And, of course, Apple's iPod dominates the MP3 player market. But, assuming Apple actually does produce a TV, Sony would likely outsell Apple given foothold in the television market. But then again, creating an innovative product and then holding onto its market has not been Sony's strong suit.

Sony has excelled at screwing up with its market strategy. The company famously lost the Betamax vs. VHS fight in the 1980s despite Betamax - widely acknowledged as a superior technology to VHS. The Walkman dominated the portable music market beginning in the 1980s, only to be upended by Apple's iPod in the early 2000s.

Sony in 2005 Sony released PlayStation Portable, a fantastic device that offered gamers an excellent portable gaming experience, expandable storage to house videos and music, a semi-usable Web browsing experience and constant firmware improvements. Despite the advantages of the PSP, Sony's portable device was soon outshone by Apple devices such as the fifth-generation iPod that was able to play video and download content from the iTunes Store. And in 2007, the gaming-centric iPod Touch pushed the PSP into near irrelevance.

As of April, Sony said it sold 70 million PSP devices total worldwide since introducing the device in Japan in 2004. Apple in about half that time (four years) sold more than 60 million iPod Touch devices, according to a recent court filing obtained by Ars Technica. Apple iOS and Google Android devices are also cutting portable gaming sales revenues for Sony and Nintendo in half, according to an analysis by Flurry Analytics.

Sony is now hoping the PSP can claw back into relevance with a new model called the PSVita, and a software development kit to encourage third-party developers to build applications for devices such as the Vita and Sony's Android-based tablets.

Will Apple Build It?

The odds of Sony producing and then succeeding with a revolutionary next-generation television set are not good. Apple has had a better luck with its iPhone and iPad, but whether it will get into the television manufacturing game is unknown.

Rumor mongering over Apple's intent to dive into the TV making business got louder in October after the publication of Steve Jobs' authorized biography by Walter Isaacson. Jobs told Isaacson he was working on an easy-to-use TV set that seamlessly syncs "with all your devices and with iCloud."

Isaacson quotes Jobs: "It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine.. I finally cracked it." The New York Times recently reported that Apple is working on a television with a voice command interface, similar to Siri, Apple's digital personal assistant on the iPhone 4S.

Can Apple or Sony deliver your next-gen television? We'll just have to stay tuned.

Connect with Ian Paul (@ianpaul ) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter for the latest tech news and analysis.

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