Sony Shooting for Tablet No. 2 Spot Behind Apple iPad

Sony has yet to join the tablet market, but in a year it nonetheless plans to become the No. 2 player behind Apple -??íor Samsung.

That the market-leading Apple iPad is facing a herd of new competitors in the tablet space is fairly common knowledge. What may surprise, however, is that Sony has its sights set on the No. 2 position.

The Japanese electronics giant was not among the manufacturers that introduced a tablet at last week's 2011 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), but it nonetheless has big plans for the form factor, Reuters first reported Jan. 7.

"For sure iPad is the king of tablets. But what is the second, what is the third? Who is taking the second position? That is our focus," Kunimasa Suzuki, Sony's computer division head, told Reuters. "We would like to really take the number two position in a year."

Back in May 2010, Sony admitted that it was keeping an eye on the tablet space.

"We have been taking a deep look at developing a tablet for a number of years, not just because of Apple but because it creates some interesting opportunities," Mike Abary, vice president of Sony's Information Technology Products unit, told Bloomberg in a May 14 report.

To date, Sony still has an eye out, and is said to be considering what features would enable a product to differentiate itself in such a crowded marketplace.

Sony CEO Howard Stringer told Reuters, "If I want to differentiate it from others, do I release it tomorrow, or do I wait till I differentiate it?" He reportedly added that the company is debating whether to include 3D capability.

While Sony's goal is "an appropriate one, for one of the world's leading consumer electronics manufacturers," says Technology Business Research Analyst Ken Hyers, it'll hardly be a simple one to achieve. Hyers points out that if last year was the year of the iPad, 2011 is the year of the Android tablet-which will be led by Samsung and its Galaxy Tab. Quite a feat, considering Apple controlled 96 percent of the tablet market during the third quarter of 2010.

"I think that Samsung, as a result of its scale and its strong distribution channels and mobile operator relationships, will become the leading tablet manufacturer going forward," Hyers told eWEEK. "That means that Sony, in order to achieve second place, will have to dethrone either Apple or Samsung, which would be a very tall order."

While Sony's arriving late to the game, it's one that will hardly be tailing off any time soon. Research firm iSuppli is expecting tablet sales to rise from 57 million in 2011 to 171 million by 2014.

Samsung, which made an aggressive entry into the market by negotiating contracts with all four of the major U.S. carriers and selling more than a million Galaxy Tabs within the first two months of the tablet's release, is working on a 4G version for Verizon Wireless. Motorola will soon launch the Xoom, running Android 3.0, or "Honeycomb"-a version of the Google OS designed specifically for tablets. And later in the year, additional releases will include the LG Electronics G-Slate, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer, the Research In Motion PlayBook and a WebOS-running tablet from Hewlett-Packard.

Even unlikely manufacturers such as Vizio are joining the market. The maker of low-cost televisions is looking to differentiate itself by offering its tablet and Android-running smartphone at prices it hopes will appeal to shoppers at Wal-Mart and Costco stores.

"Unlike Apple and Samsung, Sony doesn't have a thriving mobile phone business, which I think will be key in developing the software ecosystem that will allow those tablet manufacturers to differentiate beyond hardware options and pricing," said Hyers. "Even if a rumored [PlayStation Portable] phone/tablet does get rolled out, simply mashing a PSP with a phone doesn't really do much for creating a software ecosystem that developers can get behind."

Despite Sony's scale, said Hyers, "For all of these reasons, I think Sony will find it hard to become the No. 2 tablet manufacturer by next year."