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CES: Sony's Tiny Notebook, Yahoo! on TV

Posted by: Kenji Hall on January 8, 2009

Sony announced today its plans to sell what it says is the world’s lightest notebook PC. The new ultra-thin notebook, dubbed the P series, will weigh just 1.4 pounds and sport an 8-inch screen, and Sony Electronics’s president and chief operating officer, Stan Glasgow, told journalists at CES in Las Vegas that it is small enough to fit in a jacket pocket or purse.

Sony is clearly trying to cash in on a sector of the computer market that’s enjoying brisk sales despite the economic downturn. So-called Netbooks, which were introduced two years ago by Taiwan’s Asustek, have been a hit with consumers because of their portability, longer battery life and relatively low cost—ranging from $300 to $600. In Tokyo, they’re a favorite among Japanese journalists who can be seen huddled over their compact notebooks’ keyboards, furiously hammering out their stories during news conferences.

Sony added a few nifty technologies that most Netbooks don’t have. Here’s one: a 3G wireless modem that taps into Verizon’s mobile network. That means users won’t need a physical connecting cable to link to the Internet. The notebooks also come with Global Positioning System technology and a built-in web-cam for Net-based video calls. The idea is that users can use this as they might a Net-linked cellphone, such as the iPhone, but can also make video calls using Net-based software such as Skype. The innovations won’t come cheap for consumers, though. The company is betting that consumers will be willing to pay more for design, brand and wireless connectivity, and is pricing its new Vaio computer at around $900. (Pre-orders will start on Thursdays and U.S. retailers will stock the notebooks from February.)

Coming Soon to Flat-Panel TVs: Yahoo!

It’s not easy being a flat-panel TV maker. There’s only so much flatter that already-svelte liquid-crystal-display and plasma sets can go. And given the current economic blues, almost nobody in the industry thinks that consumers will flock to ever-flatter TVs as they have in the past. (Toshiba predicts this year's revenues from TVs will grow less than 5%.) At many of today’s news conferences, TV makers touted in-house innovations, such as a sharper picture and sensors that judge the amount of light in the room to adjust the brightness of the screen. But many of the latest models will also share a less obvious new feature: Yahoo! Widgets.

Sony, Samsung, LG and Vizio have said they will make these widgets available on their high-end sets that can connect to the Internet. Widgets are on-screen icons that offer quick access to Web auction items from eBay, photos on Flickr, on-demand videos from Netflix, or TV shows from networks. It's not hard to see why these TV makers are doing this. They want to keep the PC from usurping the TV as the center of the digital living room, and their solution is to equip TVs with the same type of tech that's standard for PCs. It’s not a bad idea, and it keeps the living room free of an extra remote-like piece of hardware (in this case, a keyboard) that would normally be needed for entering Web addresses. Imagine the day when we'll be watching Web content instead of the traditional programming from broadcasters. But it begs the question: Are TV makers still cramming new features into their TVs because they think they can keep TV demand from collapsing?

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