Sony Corp put price tags on its long-awaited tablets on Wednesday that could hurt the company's chances to grab the No. 2 spot in the tablet market.
The Japanese company came late to the game with its first tablet due to hit store shelves in September, more than a year and a half since Apple Inc debuted the iPad and almost a year since Samsung came out with the GalaxyTab.
Two versions of Sony's main tablet cost $499 and $599, which matches the price of Apple's iPads for models with the same memory and will turn off consumers.
Consumers want tablets but they are not prepared to pay the same amount they'd pay for an iPad for something that's not an iPad, said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi.
Despite the brand and different design, with its pricing so close to the iPad, it will be challenging for Sony, she added.
Research firm Forrester also put out a blog post saying that Sony's pricing raises a red flag and could sink tablet sales.
Sony vowed in January to become the world's No. 2 tablet maker -- behind Apple -- by 2012, and Sony executives stuck to that bold claim ahead of Sony's tablet launch on Wednesday.
At an event in Berlin to unveil the gadgets, chief Executive Howard Stringer walked onstage to a disco beat and brushed off concerns that Sony waited too long with its tablets.
We want to prove it's not who makes it first that counts but who makes it better, Stringer said.
Sony is trying to distinguish its Android tablets from others by having features that let one tablet function as a universal remote, while another one folds like a clamshell,
One gadget expert who has played with the single-screen Sony Tablet: S also was doubtful it could compete with rivals that sell high-end tablets at the same price.
Tim Stevens, the editor-in-chief of the Engadget tech blog called the tablet's hardware underwhelming and said its feel and design trailed that of the iPad 2 and the Galaxy Tab.
I honestly don't think this is going to be the tablet that really catapults Sony into the lead on the Android front, which is where it needs to be if it wants to be No. 2 in the tablet market, Stevens said.
The new tablets run on Google's Android software, like the GalaxyTab and many other tablets from Acer Inc, Asustek and Motorola.
Sony joins a slew of tech companies hoping to win share in a tablet market where many have stumbled in pursuit of Apple.
Hewlett Packard's decision to drop its Touchpad tablet weeks after it came out shows how easy it is to fail. Sales only soared after HP slashed the price to $99 from $399 and $499, prompting the company to announce a further final run of the tablets to meet demand.
Sony hopes its tablets will restore its leading position in consumer electronics. Once a symbol of Japan's high-tech might, the Japanese electronics conglomerate is struggling under the weight of its money-losing TV division and badly needs the boost of a hit product.
Sony really must be in the tablet market and must succeed, said Mito Securities electronics analyst Keita Wakabayashi.
Worldwide tablet shipments are forecast to more than triple this year to 60 million units, and then rise to 275.3 million units by 2015, according to an report this month from research firm IHS iSuppli.
SONY TOUTS ERGONOMIC DESIGN
Sony said the S tablet is unique because of a universal remote inside the computer that can be used to control stereos, cable television boxes and TV sets.
The company also touted the curvy design of the S tablet, which resembles a folded- back magazine that makes it easier to hold with one hand.
The wifi-only device has a 9.4 inch screen, weighs 1.33 lbs and and has front and rear cameras.
A 16 gigabyte version of the tablet will cost $499 in the U.S., while the 32 GB version will retail for $599. In Europe, the S will cost 479 euros. It can be pre-ordered on Wednesday and will be in stores in September.
Sony's second tablet, the P, comes with 4 GB of memory and looks like a clutch purse. It has two 5.5-inch screens that can be folded together and weighs less than a pound.
The tablet also offers 4G cellular service. In Europe, the P will cost 599 euros and be out in November. Sony said it would be in stores in the U.S. later this year but did not provide a date or price.
Sony's tablets tap its entertainment library by offering music and movies services, which should give it an edge on rivals, according to Stringer, the CEO.
Apple makes an iPad, but does it make a movie? Stringer said.
Shares of Sony fell 1.77 percent in Tokyo trading before the tablets were unveiled. U.S. listed shares were nearly flat at $22.04 after opening higher.
(Additional reporting by Christoph Steitz in Berlin and Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo)
(Editing by Dave Zimmerman)