Sony's Pressure-Sensitive Touchscreen Could Be a Game Changer -- For Any Other Company, That Is

Last Updated Jun 11, 2010 11:06 AM EDT

Sony (SNE) just revealed some awesome technology: A mobile touchscreen that responds to finger pressure. It could be a game changer, especially as tablets approach their tipping point, but Sony's own history of lameness isn't particularly encouraging if you're expecting the company to launch striking new devices with pressure-sensitive screens.

In other words, If it continues in its tradition of bad product decisions and proprietary stinginess, Sony will end up being its own worst enemy -- and potentially depriving users of a groundbreaking development.

From Sean Hollister at Engadget:

Sony may come up with some far-out ideas, but the company insists this one's a bit closer to home: it's a LCD touchscreen with force sensing resistors and piezoelectric actuators that can detect how much pressure is applied and vibrate the panel respectively. Tech-On was rocking the scene at Open House 2010, and reports that the Cover Flow-like interface shuffled icons faster the harder a demonstrator pressed down, an interesting UI quirk in and of itself. Though the publication sadly didn't get to test out the tactile feedback for themselves, Sony said commercialization might not be too far off -- when asked about that telling Sony Ericsson logo, the company asserted that it'd like to see the tech in mobile phones "as soon as possible."
Great intentions, but the cutting edge tech will be useless if Sony keeps it to itself and does nothing significant with it.

First, Sony has traditionally focused on proprietary products -- think Apple (APPL), only inept. The company's first mobile game device, the Sony PSP, required special headphones and special memory cards. It had better sound than the rival Nintendo (NTDOY) GameBoy, but Sony didn't allow consumers to use their favorite high-end headphones, and it couldn't garner enough support to have quality third-party headphones made. The PSP was hyped for its superior multimedia capabilities, including photos and music, but it wasn't compatible with standard memory cards -- instead, Sony required users to buy its proprietary Memory Stick.

Second, Sony is likely looking at its new tech as leverage for selling goods instead of a licensing goldmine. Like Dolby sharing its sound tech or, to a lesser extent, Twitter opening up its API, Sony has the opportunity to make not only a nice business opportunity, but to advance modern mobile technology. One of the unspoken flaws of the Apple iPad is its inability to recognize the pressure of touch: Scroll-based menus on the Internet can become an exercise in frustration. The next generation of mobile devices will need a solution like Sony's technology.

Sony doesn't have to share its groundbreaking tech, but it darn well better do some equally groundbreaking devices with it.

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