Commentary

Sony Happy With VR Goggle Sales; Releases Surprising Smartphone

Sony says that it has sold 915,000 units of its Playstation VR Headsets since the new product hit the shelves — an amount it professes surprises even itself.

Andrew House, the San Mateo, Calif-based global chief executive of Sony Interactive Entertainment, counts himself among the corporate types who tamped down the expectations of the frontline sales staff about just how many headsets to manufacture, he tells the New York Times Nick Wingfield.

“It turns out Mr. House was too cautious. The headset … has been scarce in many stores, especially in Japan, since it went on sale in October,” Wingfield writes. “Sony’s internal goal was to sell one million of the headsets in its first six months, by mid-April. The company will almost certainly surpass that forecast. 

“‘You literally have people lining up outside stores when they know stock is being replenished,’ said Mr. House, describing the scene in Japan, one of the largest games markets.”

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The Wall Street Journal’s Takashi Mochizuki, however, puts a damper on House’s enthusiasm, which was widely re-reported by tech-oriented blogs after the story broke online yesterday. “Analysts said they aren’t sure the PlayStation VR is selling fast enough,” he writes. 

“Sony sounds pretty happy with the number, but I am disappointed,” Serkan Toto, a Tokyo-based game consultant, tells Takashi. Serkan points out that even though sales are better than Facebook’s Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive, they should be. A million in sales is “almost nothing” for a game company.

SuperData Research estimates that there were 243,000 Oculus Rift units sold through the end of 2016, and 420,000 HTC Vive units,” writesEngadget’s Jon Fingas. “If the real figures are reasonably close, that makes Sony the leading VR maker on the planet despite having a smaller amount of time to build its user base.”

“Reviewers have said all the platforms provide a fairly comparable experience,” David Z. Morris writes for Fortune, but there’s a big difference in “price and platform,” he points out.

Indeed, basic household economics plays a big role, SlashGear’s JC Torres makes clear

“The Oculus Rift sells for $599 while the HTC Vive sells for $799. The PS VR immediately trump them in price with $499. But here’s the kicker. The PS VR only needs a PS4 which you can get at an average price of $199 these days, bringing the total cost to just $700 give or take. Both the Rift and the Vive require high-end PCs which nearly double the expenses. Add that to the fact that there are already 53.4 million PS VR-ready units out there, you pretty much have a recipe for success.”

Relatively speaking, at least.

“In a virtual reality market where headset adoption numbers are leaving many investors with cold feet and many founders with nervous countenances, these numbers perhaps spell a brighter future for consumer ‘mid-tier VR,’ which does not require a high-end gaming PC but instead relies on the brains of gaming consoles,” writes Lucas Matney for TechCrunch. “Microsoft is set to reveal more in June at E3 about its ‘Project Scorpio’ Xbox hardware which will supposedly boast support for virtual reality headsets.”

But “for any hardware platform, it is critical to attract outside developers and build a virtuous cycle in which popular software titles drive hardware sales, which in turn brings in more software developers. Failure to generate such a cycle has doomed some videogame hardware such as Nintendo Co.’s Wii U console,” the WSJ’s Takashi points out.

Sony, meanwhile, has eggs in other baskets. “Early on Monday morning, [it] took the wraps off what can only be described as the best smartphone of Mobile World Congress 2017 so far, a phone we didn’t see coming,” writesBGR’s Chris Smith from Barcelona. 

“With the Galaxy S8 missing in action, we expected LG, Huawei, and even Nokia, to try to steal the spotlight of the show. But Sony casually announced during a press conference hosted at its booth at MWC a brand new flagship handset that’s not only the first smartphone with a 4K HDR display, but it also packs the one chip that we’re yet to see out in the wild, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 835.”

As for that much-anticipated S8, Samsung has confirmed that it will launch on March 29 at 11 a.m. in New York and worldwide via live streaming. A new video “boasts that it's time to ‘Unbox your phone’ — suggesting a new design is coming to the S8,” David Snelling reports for the Express

We’d suggest the video does more than suggest it. Indeed, accompanying text claims: “By reshaping the device that we’ve all come to intimately know and rely on, and adding to it an exciting suite of new features, the latest addition to the Galaxy lineup will define what it means to think outside the box.”

Isn’t that what VR is doing? Hmmmm.

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