Opinion: Sony's vision of the wired future marches onwards
The past week has offered a number of rare glimpses of Sony's vision of the future for its PlayStation product range - ranging from the near future, with the launch of a "PStwo" redesigned PS2 console at E3, through to the company's plans for using high speed wireless networks to hook up its future products and enable a whole range of new functionality.
What's very clear from this week's new insights is that Sony is still actively pursuing a strategy which will turn the PlayStation into a home media (and portable media) brand that stretches well beyond the conventional limits of the videogames market. While Nintendo continues to focus purely on the games market and Microsoft seems to be shying away from the idea of the console as a combined media device - perhaps wary of cannibalising its own highly profitable operating system business - Sony's vision of a household whose media needs are entirely provided through PlayStation hardware remains unshaken.
The disclosure that the company is considering launching at least two variants of the PS3 - an expensive PSX-style media centre, and a less expensive pure games system - fills in a little more of the picture that Ken Kutaragi is painting of the homes of the future. The media centre PS3 will take pride of place in the living room, while games-only PS3 and PStwo devices occupy bedrooms, and PSP handhelds roam in people's pockets - with the whole lot being networked wirelessly and hooked up to high speed Internet links, allowing users to access games, movies, music and other media wherever they like, both around the house and on the move.
It's a grand vision, and Sony is arguably the only company in the world which could hope to pull it off. Their dominance of the games industry, respected consumer electronics brand, heavy presence in the music and film industries and the groundwork which is being laid by the investment in Cell and its attendant operating system give Sony exactly the line-up of experience, technology and market presence that is needed to accomplish the ambitious goals which the company has in mind. Even the mighty Microsoft, despite its cash pile, would have to go a long way - and make many acquisitions - to be able to rival the strings on Sony's bow.
Which isn't to say that the Seattle based giant won't try. Indeed, in some ways, it has to try - because if Sony dominates the home and handheld markets, Microsoft's Windows operating system will be relegated to business and server environments, where it already faces strong challenges from the likes of Linux. Beating Sony in the race to own the home media market is arguably the second biggest challenge facing Microsoft in the coming five to ten years (after the challenge of beating Linux in the corporate desktop and server market) - and it's a battle neither company can afford to lose.
This editorial originally appeared in the GamesIndustry.biz Weekly Update, a free email news bulletin which is distributed to subscribers every Wednesday afternoon and features a round-up of the key headlines from the previous week, software charts, recruitment information and editorial opinion on key issues of the week.
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