I recently had an opportunity to have dinner with some top figures in Sony’s handheld group. What they were hoping to get from me and the other invitees was feedback on their latest products, but what I got from them was a pretty good sense of what Sony’s plans are for future wireless handhelds.
In attendance were Masanobu Yoshida, president of the handheld computing division of Sony (pictured at right); Russell Paik, Sony’s vice president for handheld marketing; and David Yang, from Sony’s U.S. marketing group. I’m pointing this out just so it’s clear that the people I was meeting with know what they are talking about.
I wasn’t the only non-Sony person there, of course. Also invited was Todd Kort, an analyst from Gartner, and Shawn Barnett, formerly of Pen Computing.
The discussion started off by someone asking if the reason why Sony hadn’t released a handheld with cellular-wireless capabilities was because it wasn’t allowed to compete with Sony Ericsson (SE), a partnership it has with the European cell phone maker which produces Symbian powered smart phones.
The Sony representatives made it clear that there are no restrictions on what kind of wireless devices it can make. However, Mr. Yoshida said his company isn’t going to make the sort of smart phone SE would. From his standpoint, there would be no point, as it would just compete directly with SE. Also, that’s not the company’s vision for the Clie line.
Opportunities to talk directly to the man at the top don’t come along very often, so both Shawn Barnett and I brought up the Sony model we most wanted to see: a version of the UX50 with the same size screen as in the NX series. This touched off what I thought was the most interesting exchange of the evening.
Mr. Yoshida said if they made a UX50 with a larger screen, as we were requesting, such a device would be too large to be held up to your ear for a phone conversation, while the UX50 is not.
Mr. Barnett then pointed out that there was a great deal of space on either side of the UX50’s screen and asked if this was where the antenna for wireless networking are located. The Sony people said that he was correct, and therefore there was no way to put a larger display in the device without increasing the overall size.
The Sony people also pointed out that they could, with relative ease, switch out the Wi-Fi antenna for a GSM/GPRS one.
All in all, Mr. Yoshida and his employees were quite candid in their comments to us. That’s why I firmly expect Sony to release in the near future a device that looks a lot like the UX50, but can connect to cellular-wireless networks.
I’m also hopeful that this handheld will run Palm OS Cobalt, but I’ve heard nothing definitive about that.
On the other hand, I don’t think we’ll see a UX series model that includes the larger screen from the NX series.