Apple's Steve Jobs will beat Sony from the afterlife

By Jonny Evans

In what I wouldn't ever describe as a fair fight, Sony [SNE] CEO, Howard Stringer, says he is finally ready to "compete against Steve Jobs". It seems a little crass that it took the death of the Apple [AAPL] visionary before Stringer could bring it on.


Too little, too late

"I spent the last five years building a platform so I can compete against Steve Jobs. It's finished, and it's launching now," Forbes reports.

Sony hopes to compete by offering an ecosystem of products, spanning its television sets, tablets, smartphones and PCs, all ably supported by its media assets: PlayStation games, and Sony's music and film imprints.

Sony faces the anticipated introduction of an Apple-branded television set, offering support for iTunes, iCloud, AirPlay and apps, most likely controlled through some cheap touch device, an iPod touch, iPad, or iPhone.

Biographer Walter Isaacson reports Steve Jobs told him: "'I'd like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use...It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud.' No longer would users have to fiddle with complex remotes for DVD players and cable channels. 'It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it.'"

All about design

Many (myself included) think it possible Apple will create a voice-controlled television, using Siri voice technologies. Can Stringer fight back? Following unexpected losses, Sony last week projected a $1.2 billion loss for its fiscal year which ends in March.

What's got players in the smart TV space anxious is the abject failure of their offerings so far.

Smart TV is expected to become one of the growth drivers of the next-generation Post-PC tech economy, but consumer use of connected televisions, beyond streaming movie and TV show services, has been weak.

Consumers aren't bragging about their switched-on Wi-Fi televisions. There's no mass market excitement. It's a concept that sounds exciting to technologists, but it needs a mass market frisson to succeed.

Who is the King of mass market excitement generation? Apple has always described Apple TV as a "hobby". We all know that's not true: the company has been learning how broadcasting works as it forges new partnerships via iTunes. This information will inform Apple's design-led teams as they develop their next great disruptive device, a TV set that puts the user first.

Failure, loss and Google TV

Meanwhile, over at Google, a company which favors data above design, teams are reeling at news Logitech plans to drop its own Google TV-driven Apple TV competing device from its product matrix.

The Logitech Revue has been an abject $100 million failure. Logitech's CEO Guerrino De Luca called it "a mistake" -- and he blamed the Google TV software for not being ready at launch.

"To make the long story short, we thought we had invented (sliced) bread and we just made them. [We made a commitment to] just build a lot because we expected everybody to line up for Christmas and buy these boxes at $300… that was a big mistake," De Luca said.

Google has lost a lot of credibility. As Jobs predicted, Google TV is on the ropes. As I predicted in conversations with others at the time, Google TV cannot succeed because it has no philosophy behind it, bar the world being a giant search engine. These days, lack of philosophical integrity makes for weak products.

Ready for change

Sony (which also lost money backing Google TV) has made its own mistakes with TV: "We can't continue selling TV sets" in this manner, Stringer said, "every TV set we make loses money."

So, as Apple reportedly prepares to enter the smart TV industry, it faces Google, which has lost face among key hardware partners, and Sony, which is already losing money on every TV it makes.

Given Apple's clear industry leadership when it comes to offering a sophisticated operating system for mobile devices, it would be easy to imagine the Apple TV being an iOS device.

In recent months I've seen a slight ideological divorce between Apple's mobile devices and Apple TV -- these follow separate update paths. Is it logical to expect Apple TV to boast a full iOS system? I think a more limited feature set is likely.

In its favor, Apple counts a horde of Apple TV customers who enjoy using their content on their TV set, millions of iPad owners eager to make their device even more central to their media experience and many more millions of iPhone owners eager for the same.

With Google's shambolic TV offering propping itself up in one corner, Samsung's cool but philosophically-bereft smart TV devices in another, and Sony finally ready to take on a dead man with a content/product hybrid offering it could and should have begun offering in the late '90's, I'm going to place my bets that Apple will win this one.

I predict that Steve Jobs will beat Howard Stringer, even after the grave.

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Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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