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Sony Touch-Screen Patents Fuel Rumors

Technologies could affect Playstation 2, e-reader, even a tablet


While the majority of the tech industry is busy counting precious earnings from the holiday shopping rush, evidence of future projects from both Sony’s (NYSE: SNE) video game division amidst the Black Friday sales totals over the weekend. The tech blog Playstation Lifestyle published a report detailing eight related patents filed by Sony Computer Entertainment America earlier this fall. The patents describe a series of different touch-screen technologies that will, considering their origin, likely be used in the company’s rumored new handheld gaming device, the Playstation Portable 2.

The patent describes a touch-screen solution that should ease issues caused by users’ hands blocking the screen during use. Rather than touching the display screen directly, users will a separate touch screen or touch pad near the display touch panel for basic controls. A diagram in the patent highlights a section of the screen devoted to readable text that can be manipulated and scrolled through using a touch panel on the back of the screen. A user holding the device with a single hand could, for example, browse a tablet-formatted newspaper by using their gripping fingers on the rear of the device. Other diagrams of the technology show that the two panels can be repositioned to face the same way or facing opposite directions but offset from one another to accommodate a book-style holding position. The patents do not, however, indicate if the second touch screen will also be a display.

Though the patents were only published in the past few days, they were originally filed over a year ago, when rumors of a new Playstation Portable began to gain new steam. Though Sony Computer Entertainment is the origin of the touch-screen patents, that  doesn’t necessarily mean that the technology will be devoted entirely to the PSP 2, let alone a Playstation-branded device. An adjustable and versatile touch-screen interface would be a boon to a number of possible Sony products.

Sony is one of the few major electronics manufacturers that has not announced a tablet PC for release in 2011 and the company’s line of VAIO computers could use a new and exciting product to revitalize the division. Sony sold just 6.8 million VAIO laptops in 2009 and though the company is expected to hit its target of 10 million sold in 2010, it is still flagging behind competitors Hewlett Packard (NASDAQ: HPQ) and Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL). Instituting the multiple touch-screen technologies described in the new patents in both a PSP 2 and a VAIO tablet could help both products by leveraging Sony’s online gaming and media storefront the Playstation Network as well. Sony VAIO deputy president Ryosuke Akahane said earlier this year that his division needed to begin utilizing the popularity of the Playstation Network to fuel VAIO adoption.

Sony’s e-reader division could also benefit from the technology described. Sony dropped the prices on its line of Reader e-readers last summer in an effort to compete with the rising Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) Kindle and Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKN) Nook, not to mention Apple’s iPad, but the devices have continued to trail their competitors. In a Reuters report published this past Sunday, though, Sony announced that it was relaunching the Reader line in its native Japan after having pulled out of the Japanese e-reader market three years ago. The relaunch is fueled by a wealth of new content in the company’s e-book store, the Reader Store, with 20,000 titles compared to the 10,000 titles available when the Reader left shelves in 2007. It’s very possible that, once its Japanese business is better established, Sony will begin an aggressive campaign to win the e-reader market with a new device incorporating the new multiple touch-screen layout. The technology would give Sony a leg up over the lower tech offerings from Amazon and Barnes & Noble as well as a compelling alternative to the iPad, provided the new Reader stays within the price range of the current line.

Right now, all of Sony’s portable electronics could benefit from the new technology. The current Playstation Portable’s sales are on life support in the United States and European markets, and a Playstation Portable 2 that borrows the best of Apple’s successful touch-screen-equipped portable devices while still catering to the enthusiast gamer market could revitalize the Sony Computer Entertainment’s portable division in a huge way. A VAIO tablet and Reader using the tech could also perform quite well in 2011. We should know more next year following the Consumer Electronics Show in January.

As of this writing, Anthony Agnello did not own a position in any of the stocks named here.

Article printed from InvestorPlace Media,

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