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Roundup: Sony at IFA 2012

Sony President and CEO Kazuo Hirai headlined Sony’s IFA press conference in Berlin, where the electronics giant announced new flagship phones, tablets, and television. The most interesting announcement was a trio of new Xperia smartphones, led by the Xperia T—a high end phone Sony will make available across the globe. The Xperia T sports a 4.6 inch Reality display powered by Sony’s mobile Bravia engine. It’s a classy screen, and should be more than competitive with the Galaxy Note II’s Super AMOLED panel or the iPhone’s Retina Display. The Xperia T also has a 13.1 megapixel “fast capture” camera and a built in NFC chip. Sony announced NFC enabled accessories,  including a pair of headphones, that it will sell alongside the new phone. The T runs a custom version of Android 4.04, Jelly Bean won’t be available at launch, but Sony has promised rapid updates.  Sony also took the time to show off the Xperia V and J, lower end end phones that will be most competitive in emerging and prepaid markets dominated by Chinese manufacturers, such as ZTE and Huawei.

Sony also announced a new Android tablet running Ice Cream Sandwich, the Xperia Tablet S. Sony’s old Android tablets, the Tablet P and S, didn’t sell (or review) very well, so it’s no surprise Sony would want to abandon its older branding and try again with something a little different. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Sony has learned much from their past mistakes. The Xperia Tablet S and Tablet P tried so hard to be original they were unusable. The Tablet P’s dual displays were useless, and the Xperia S had a strange fold on the back that made it impossible to hold comfortably. Sony learned it’s lesson, but it looks like they’ve too far in the opposite direction. As The Verge pointed out, the most inspired thing about the new tablet is its terrible name; all Sony’s designers really did was knock off Microsoft’s upcoming Surface tablets; the Xperia tablet even has a bundled Android app that looks like Metro program. The sole feature Sony didn’t steal from Microsoft? The Xperia Tablet S is splash proof.

Things look a little better on the Windows front. The Vaio Duo 11 is a good looking convertible that will launch alongside Windows 8. The touch screen notebook sports a full sized articulating keyboard that slides behind the display when it’s not needed. The Vaio line of laptops have traditionally been home to some of the more premium, well built Windows notebooks, and the Duo 11 looks to be holding true to Sony’s past. Sony also trotted out the Vaio Duo 20, a twenty inch touch screen desktop that can lay flat. It’s not quite as useful as the Duo 11, but if you’ve always dreamed of a owning a touch screen table, this would be one way to mimic the experience without shelling out for the real thing.

The XBR-84X900 was also on display, and no; it’s not a robot—but it’s still pretty damn cool. The XBR-84X900 (his friend’s just call him Ted), is an 84-inch 4K Bravia television. It’s one of the first production 4K televisions, and should go on sale later this year. No word yet on how much this thing is going to cost, Sony plans to announce pricing next week, but I’m willing to bet it’s out of your price range. That’s okay though, 4K content is far and few between, and there still isn’t a final format for the resolution. You’d be better off saving your money for something more useful, like Sony’s Play Memories camera apps for your Sony NEX-5R! (So, Hirai, can I have my three dollars now?) Play Memories camera apps are apps for your camera. Sort of. See, Sony didn’t announce an SDK for their cameras, just apps. They’re going to have an app store, but it looks like it’s going to be filled with programs Sony builds themselves.  The Play Memories announcement (really more of a demo, we’ve seen this stuff before) is probably just a way for Sony to prep us for the inevitable: Sony selling software for Sony cameras through a Sony app store to give you features they should have given you to begin with.

In other words, it’s DLC.

For a camera.

The Xperia T and Duo 11 may look amazing, but I still think Sony’s lost it.

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NFC: It’s Time

The way you make purchases is changing. With Bank of America preparing to start charging $5 a month for customers to use their debit card, and the promise of more banks to follow suit, the opening for NFC is here. Near Field Communications will allow customers make purchases with their mobile devices. Many know of Google Wallet, but Isis — a joint venture between U.S. carriers Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile — will be Google’s main competition.

Isis, the brainchild of three of the big four mobile companies (we will get to Sprint later), is slated to be a firmly established brand. With handset makers such as Samsung, HTC, Motorola, RIM, LG, and Sony Ericsson, committed to building NFC-enabled devices with Isis’ technology, competition is guaranteed, but success is not. Isis has not been released on any device yet. Those outside of the tech space have never heard of Isis. Most have never heard of NFC.

Scot Mulloy, Chief Technology Officer of Isis, said that “working together with the device makers and our founding mobile carriers, Isis can provide the consumer choice and scale necessary for widespread adoption of mobile commerce.”

Google Wallet is currently available on only one phone, the Nexus S 4G from Sprint. But this means little to Google. Google Wallet works on over 300,000 MasterCard PayPass locations, not to mention a worldwide license with Visa’s PayWave service. With Android as its platform, Google could just make Wallet a standard application on new iterations of the operating system. Of course, the three carriers would fight — and likely try to block it — but it may be a case of too little, too late. Google is expected to announce Ice Cream Sandwich, the new Android variation in the next few weeks.

Back in May, when Google Wallet was announced, Google VP of Commerce Stephanie Tilenius said, “in terms of iPhone, RIM, Microsoft – we will partner with everyone.” This, of course, depends on how willing Apple and Microsoft are to adding another Google product to their operating systems. Apple has also been rumored for months to be working on its own NFC service. But if accomplished, Google will have a stranglehold on the mobile payment market. Apple – and to a lesser extent Microsoft — as you may know, do not let carriers alter their devices, unlike Android, which is routinely altered to a carrier’s preference.

While Isis has been rounding up carriers and manufacturers, Google has been rounding up retail businesses. Merchants such as, Foot Locker, CVS/pharmacy, American Eagle Outfitters, Jamba Juice, RadioShack, and Toys “R” Us currently accept Google Wallet. Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Subway, and Walgreens are coming in the near future.

Wide-spread adoption of NFC technology seemed a few years away, but with banks implementing a monthly fee for debit-card use, it could come much quicker than we expected. Isis has the carriers and the manufacturers, but that may not matter. Google is Google, and they will implement their service.