Sony to add wireless features to 90% of its home gear by 2010 – but do you really want a Wi-Fi TV?

28 08 2008

I remember a few years back when Philips unveiled the first of its wireless Streamium hi-fi products, Here was an innovative audio system that hooked up to a users’ wireless network and enabled them to stream tracks from their PC to the hi-fi.

In theory it was brilliant. Sadly in practice it was fiddly to set up, not as well specified as it could have been and looked awful. Nevertheless the first home wireless product has arrived.

Several years on and we seemingly can’t get enough of wireless devices. The descendant of that Philips hi-fi is a genius piece of kit that looks and sounds superb. Then there are games consoles that act as wireless video streamers and cool stuff like Griffin Technology’s wireless iPod speakers.

So wouldn’t it be great if all home products could be integrated into a wireless network? Well that’s the aim of Sony, whose CEO Howard Stringer today announced that 90% of the company’s home products would be wireless by 2010.Once again, in theory that sound great. In practice, well just think about it. That means every TV set with wireless, and hopefully a web browser, built in. Wireless features added to cameras, music players, projectors, AV gear and much more.

The announcement comes at an interesting time for Sony. On one level it knows that the economic slowdown is going to affect its core western markets. While at the same time what Stringer calls the Bric markets (Brazil, Russia, India and China) are growing very quickly as are the markets in eastern European countries.

To trigger high sales in the west Sony has to innovate and give consumers compelling reasons to be upgrade. However while adding wireless functionality sounds impressive, consumers aren’t generally fools and will only upgrade if the added features make their life easier.

So adding Wi-Fi to cameras to enable users to upload images quickly to a PC/home server sounds like a very sensible idea. If Sony music players can grab tracks from a PC/server wirelessly that too would be breakthrough. But I think finding a killer reason to use Wi-Fi on a TV set could be trickier. I think that most consumers simply don’t want to surf the web on their home set. After all how many people surf the web via their Virgin Media box? Those who do mix TV and the web are probably watching video on their second home set which invariably these days is a PC.

There are undoubtedly some great possible ideas for fusing TV and the web. Imagine watching a holiday programme while being able to search for images of that site via Flickr, or resort reviews via WAYN. Or maybe a cookery programme that offers not just on screen recipes, but a one button click to order the food from Ocado.

However the execution of these types of features will be driven by the TV broadcasters and at the moment with the issues surrounding advertising/funding, declining audiences and the challenge of the web, I think they have bigger fish to fry.

So while it is great that Sony is bringing wireless to so many of its products it is going to need to come up with some pretty smart features to tempt me and other early adopters. Over to you Sony.

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