CES 2013: Sony rising again?

Sony showed off something in their booth at CES that surprised both Trey and me - compliance with industry standards. When other large companies like Samsung, LG, and Apple are playing in their own walled gardens, Sony is allowing devices from any manufacturer--as long as they comply with standards such as Miracast, Bluetooth and NFC--to connect to their devices. And even more than that, their devices are well made and the services are well implemented.

Sony was one of the most iconic companies of the 80’s and 90’s and Walkman was the original brand for portable music. I remember the Christmas I received my first CD player and the disappointment I felt that it was not a Walkman. However, Sony lost some of that magic as the importance of digital media grew. Walter Isaacson, in his biography of Steve Jobs, uses Sony as the example of a company that had all of the means to do what Apple did with the iPod and iTunes, but just failed. Much of this failure is attributed to warring between Sony’s hardware division and their media division. Additionally, Sony spurned common media formats, instead selecting proprietary equivalents (who could forget ATRAC or Memory Stick).

Bravia TV with Miracast from an Xperia Z phone

Bravia TV with Miracast from an Xperia Z phone

Based on what we saw at CES though, Sony is adopting a completely new strategy. The top models in their 2013 line of Bravia TVs will support Miracast, the open standard to replicate the functionality of Apple’s Airplay. This is the same standard that streams video from the Wii U console to its Gamepad.  Miracast allows you to fully mirror your phone’s display on your big screen TV as well as stream media to the TV.  Possibly even better than Miracast is how easy it is to connect to the TV...if you have an NFC enabled phone. Just tap the back of the remote (on the handy “N” stamp) with your phone and the phone will connect, providing a vibration indicating successful connection. The same convenient “N” stamp can be found on some of Sony’s Bluetooth headphones and speakers, making it just as easy to pair your phone over Bluetooth as it is to pair with your TV.  This ease of connection is the most compelling feature, allowing people not intimately familiar with their settings menu to connect their phone to whatever device they chose.

The back of the TV remote showing the "N" stamp

The back of the TV remote showing the "N" stamp

To complement the NFC and Miracast connection options used by their other devices, Sony also announced 2 new phones at CES, the Xperia Z and the Xperia ZL. Both phones run Android Jelly Bean, are NFC enabled, have a 5” 1080p screen (443 ppi for those keeping track), and boast a Snapdragon S4 quad-core processor. Even more impressively, the Xperia Z, which has a glass back much like that of an iPhone 4/4s, has a IP55 & IP57 rating. This means that it can be submerged in one meter of water for 30 minutes and be just fine. Although pricing has not been announced, these phones make it look like Sony actually intends to be a contender in the premium smartphone market. Samsung, we eagerly await the Galaxy S4 to see what you have to match the new Xperia phones.

Xperia ZL (left) and Xperia Z (right)

Xperia ZL (left) and Xperia Z (right)

Samsung and LG allow most of the features I have described above. However, they lack the open connectivity that Sony showed off at CES. Trey and I walked to every booth advertising the ability to stream media to your TV, me with my Galaxy S3 and Trey with his iPhone 5. LG and Samsung both told us we need one of their phones to connect to their TVs. I was in luck with Samsung, but not with LG, and Trey went bust with both of them. Sony’s booth was the only place where we were both told that of course we could connect our phones. Sony even had a very large and very nice boombox with a Lightning connector, NFC, Bluetooth, Aux, Radio, and a USB port.

Sony Bluetooth speaker with Trey's iPhone docked

Sony Bluetooth speaker with Trey's iPhone docked

In an age where everyone, including Microsoft, is trying to be more like Apple, it is refreshing to see Sony going the other way. Sony will provide you with a TV, a phone, headphones, speakers, and almost any other consumer electronic device you could ever want. However, unlike their biggest competition, Sony will give you all of the advertised features of the device you own without penalizing you for not owning their other devices. In this way (at least I hope) Sony will rise again and become a force to be reckoned with.