TOKYO: Aiming to replicate PlayStation’s success to address its reliance on a handful of manufacturers in the fickle smartphone market, Sony Corp’s image sensor business plans to sell software by subscription for data-analyzing sensors in situ.
Transforming the light-converting chips into a platform for software, amounts to a sea change for the company which built its dominance through hardware breakthroughs.
According to an analyst, the effort chimes with Sony’s pursuit of recurring revenue after years of loss in the volatile consumer electronics sector.
Sony’s Hideki Somemiya, who heads a new team developing sensor applications said they have a solid position in the market for image sensors, which serve as a gateway for imaging data.
Pointing to the recurring nature of software-dependent data processing versus a hardware-only business, he said, analysis of such data with artificial intelligence (AI) “would form a market larger than the growth potential of the sensor market itself in terms of value,”.
According to Reuters, Sony has developed what it calls the world’s first image sensor with integrated AI processor which can be installed in security cameras, where it can single out factory workers not wearing helmets, for instance, or be mounted in vehicles to monitor driver drowsiness.
But most importantly, the software can be modified or replaced wirelessly without disturbing the camera.
Sony has not disclosed a start date for the service, but at a news conference last month, Somemiya said there was demand from “retailers, factories – mainly business-to-business”.
Meanwhile, South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co Ltd and Chinese-owned OmniVision Technologies are also expanding the software capability of image sensors, but analysts said a 52% market share gives Sony a competitive edge in the emerging area.
Still, Somemiya said a software-centred approach will require a change of mindset at a division accustomed to abiding by specifications of smartphone makers, just five of whom account for the bulk of its revenue.
The new direction comes as U.S. hedge fund Third Point LLC, continues to push Sony to spin off the image sensor division, saying its value could be higher if it was not masked by the complexity of the company.
Sony Chief Executive Kenichiro Yoshida counters that keeping the division in house gives it easier access to group resources and has said diversity is the company’s strength.