* Sony's first tablet to hit stores after long wait
* Analysts concerned high price will turn off consumers
* Single-screen S tablet costs $499 and $599, same as iPad
* Sony has pledged to be No. 2 in tablets by 2012
(Adds new headline and lead; rewrites first section; adds new
quote from technology blog)
By Liana B. Baker and Nicola Leske
NEW YORK/BERLIN, Aug 31 Sony's hopes of
dominating consumer electronics once again with its new tablets
suffered a crushing blow on Wednesday from analysts and gadget reviewers whose first impressions were overwhelmingly bad.
Among their concerns were a high price and and features
that suggested Sony Corp (6758.T) would remain an also-ran
rather than a leader in the tablet market. Two versions of
Sony's main tablet cost $499 and $599, the same price as two
lower-end Apple iPad models.
"Consumers want tablets, but they are not prepared to pay
the same amount they'd pay for an iPad for something that's not
an iPad," said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi. "Despite the
brand and different design, with its pricing so close to the
iPad, it will be challenging for Sony."
The Japanese company is already late to the game with its
first tablet, which hits store shelves in September, more than
a year and a half after Apple Inc (AAPL.O) launched the iPad
and almost a year since Samsung Electronics Co Ltd (005930.KS)
came out with the GalaxyTab.
Backed by a disco beat during an event in Berlin to unveil
the devices, Sony CEO Howard Stringer brushed off concerns the
company waited too long to get into the tablet market.
"We want to prove it's not who makes it first that counts
but who makes it better," Stringer said.
Based on the initial reception, Sony has failed in that
Research firm Forrester put out a blog post saying Sony's
pricing "raises a red flag."
Tech reviewers credited Sony for coming up with a unique
curvy design for the S tablet, which resembles a folded-back
magazine and makes it easier to hold with one hand, but the
quality of the hardware was questioned.
A review on the Gizmodo tech blog called the tablet
"extremely plasticky" and said its screen scratched more easily
than other tablets.
Sony (SNE.N) vowed in January to become the world's No. 2
tablet maker -- behind Apple -- by 2012 and Sony executives
stuck to that ambitious claim ahead of the tablet launch on
Sony is trying to distinguish its Android tablets from
others with features such as having one model function as a
universal remote, while another folds like a clamshell.
One expert who has played with the single-screen "Sony
Tablet: S" also was doubtful it could compete with rivals that
sell high-end tablets at the same price.
Tim Stevens, the editor-in-chief of the Engadget tech blog
said the tablet's hardware was underwhelming and its feel and
design trailed the iPad 2 and the Galaxy Tab.
"I honestly don't think this is going to be the tablet that
really catapults Sony into the lead on the Android front, which
is where it needs to be if it wants to be No. 2 in the tablet
market," Stevens said.
iPad rivals have better chance in Europe [ID:nLDE77716D]
Samsung tablet banned in Germany to Sept 9 [ID:nL5E7JP2JK]
ANALYSIS on the tablet market: [ID:nN1E77I0GH]
Sony rules out quitting TV business [ID:nL3E7J42AH]
GRAPHIC on tablets: link.reuters.com/paf72s
The new tablets run on Google Inc's (GOOG.O) Android
software, such as the GalaxyTab and many other tablets from
Acer Inc (2353.TW), Asustek Computer Inc (2357.TW) and Motorola
Mobility Holdings Inc (MMI.N).
Sony joins a slew of technology companies hoping to win a
share in a market where many have stumbled in pursuit of
Hewlett Packard's Co (HPQ.N) decision to drop its Touchpad
tablet only weeks after it came out shows how easy it is to
fail. Sales soared only after HP slashed the price to $99 from
$399 and $499, prompting the company to announce a further
"final run" of the tablets to meet demand. [ID:nN1E77T222]
Once a symbol of Japan's high-tech might, Sony is
struggling under the weight of its money-losing TV division and
badly needs the boost of a hit product.
"Sony really must be in the tablet market and must
succeed," said Mito Securities electronics analyst Keita
Worldwide shipments are forecast to more than triple this
year to 60 million tablets and then rise to 275.3 million units
by 2015, according to an report this month from research firm
FEATURES: A TV REMOTE AND MOVIES
Sony said the S tablet is unique because of a universal
remote inside the computer that can be used to control stereos,
cable television boxes and TV sets.
The wifi-only device has a 9.4 inch screen, weighs 1.33 lbs
and and has front and rear cameras.
A 16 gigabyte version of the tablet will cost $499 in the
United States, while the 32 GB version will retail for $599. In
Europe, the S will cost 479 euros. It can be pre-ordered on
Wednesday and will be in stores in September.
Sony's second tablet, the P, comes with 4 GB of memory and
looks like a clutch purse. It has two 5.5-inch screens that can
be folded together and weighs less than a pound.
The tablet also offers 4G cellular service. In Europe, the
P will cost 599 euros and be out in November. Sony said it
would be in stores in the United States later this year, but
did not provide a date or price.
Sony's tablets tap its entertainment library by offering
music and movies services, which should give it an edge over
rivals, according to Stringer.
"Apple makes an iPad, but does it make a movie?" Stringer
Sony shares fell 1.77 percent in Tokyo trading before the
tablets were unveiled. U.S. listed shares closed almost 0.3
percent down at $21.95 after opening higher. [ID:nL4E7JV0B0]
(Additional reporting by Christoph Steitz in Berlin and
Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo; editing by Dave Zimmerman and Andre