Monday, April 25, 2011

How Android is Saving Sony's Bacon


The maker of Vaio notebooks and PlayStation game consoles is facing an unusually tough year. Whether it's supply shortages from the tsunami in Japan, attacks by "Anonymous" hacktivists, or a prolonged PlayStation Network outage, Sony just can't seem to catch a break.

Fortunately, there's a new advanced technology on Sony's side.

The little green robot that could

Android is Google's open-source operating system designed for smartphones (the "Honeycomb" version, designed for tablets, is not open-source yet). Because the "source," or programming, code for Android is available on Google's website for free, anyone can take it and make whatever they want with it. And while Google's a tad picky over which companies it will allow to use its proprietary Android apps, and have access to the Android Market on their devices, that's not an issue if you're making a device that isn't a conventional smartphone ...

... like Sony's NGP, or Next-Generation Portable, the successor to its PlayStation Portable game console. The NGP will use a "PlayStation Suite" based on Android, and will have a multitouch screen and Web browser, technologies which may have been lifted from Android code.

Certain Android phones which have been "PlayStation Certified" will also be able to access the PlayStation Suite. These phones will have exclusive games made for them, and may have special hardware controls reminiscent of the DualShock controllers for PlayStation game consoles. So far the Xperia Play is the only PlayStation Certified phone to be announced, but it already has a long list of games.

In with the old

The PlayStation brand isn't the only Sony property that's getting a new lease on life from the Android platform. After a series of mostly forgettable MP3 players, the Sony Walkman line is being revived in Asia and the Pacific, with brightly-colored hardware and a special music-playing interface.

It's doubtful if these devices will reach American shores ... and with an outdated version of Android, plus decidedly low-end specs, they probably wouldn't do very well if they did. Sony Ericsson's starting to stem the tide of its own decline, though, thanks to its new Android-powered smartphones; and with the newly-released Xperia Play and Xperia Arc, it may even take some market share from other handset makers.

With PlayStation games on the Android Market, plus an official PlayStation Network app for Android phones, it's clear that Android is the future of Sony's strategy. Perhaps the only question is: What took them so long?

Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.

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