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Sony vs. Sony: Its PlayStation Phone and Its Mobile PlayStation Go Head On

Sony Ericsson revealed the long-awaited PlayStation cellphone, the XPeria Play, at the Barcelona Mobile World Congress. The twist is that another Sony unit, Sony Computer Entertainment (SNE), just revealed the long-awaited PlayStation mobile game system, Sony NGP portable. So the billion-dollar company has a cellphone that looks like a game machine and a game machine that looks like a cellphone -- and it expects consumers to embrace both.

What's the difference? Customers won't be able to tell, and considering the company's history of siloed development teams, it's unclear if Sony even knows.

Close enough to be the same device
Coming out next month through Verizon (V), the XPeria Play (the cellphone) has nice specs:

  • Snapdragon 1GHz processor
  • 4-inch touchscreen with 480 x 854 resolution
  • Dual analog touch areas
  • 5.1 megapixel camera
  • 3G and Wi-Fi

Weirdly, though, the specs of the Sony NGP video game system are almost identical:
  • 4-inch touchscreen (XPeria Play) vs. 5-inch touchscreen (NGP)
  • Google (GOOG) Android (XPeria Play) vs. Google Android (NGP)
  • Two analog touch controls (XPeria Play) vs. two analog touch controls (NGP)
  • 480 x 854 resolution (XPeria Play) vs. 960 x 544 resolution (NGP)
  • Verizon 3G (XPeria Play) vs. 3G via an undetermined carrier (NGP)
So, which one is the phone? Will there be cross-compatibility between the platforms? Will one be on sale at Verizon stores and the other at GameStop (GME)?

Now, there are some differences between the two. The XPeria Play, for instance, uses the Snapdragon 1GHz processor versus the NGP's quad-core ARM Cortex-A9. It's still going to be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for Sony to market both devices effectively.

A long history of conflicting products
Unfortunately, this is just the latest chapter in Sony's long history of confusing product collisions. As documented in Bob Johnstone's We Were Burning, the excellent history of the Japanese tech industry, Sony historically creates "independent" development teams to create competition and, ideally, innovation within the company. It's easy to see the XPeria Play and the NGP as a case of one-upmanship that will ultimately hurt the company.

My BNET colleague Steve Tobak articulated Sony's fragmentation problem back in 2009:

While senior management sought grandiose visions of a media empire, Sony's product units became isolated silos. That enabled the likes of Apple, Samsung, Nintendo, and Panasonic to outflank Sony in every product category from game consoles and music players to digital cameras and TVs.

Beyond internal issues, Sony is experiencing a marketing problem that will become more common: The more multiuse mobile devices become, the more consumers -- and producers -- will be confused by the blurring lines. The XPeria Play cellphone is out next month, about nine months before the NGP game system. We'll see if consumers support the XPeria, the NGP -- or neither.

Photo courtesy of Sony Ericsson

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