Sony tablets will use Android and will go on sale this autumn

Sony takes on Apple with new tablet computers

Sony has launched its first tablet computers to compete with Apple's revolutionary iPad.

The gadgets will use an operating system based on Google's Android 3.0 and will be the first to enable use of PlayStation games, said Kunimasa Suzuki, deputy president of the consumer products and services group.

Sony surprised experts when it said in January it was aiming for the number two spot in the tablet market behind Apple's iPad within a year, even though it had yet to put a product on the market.

"That effectively means they have to beat Samsung, which is a very tough rival," said Nobuo Kurahashi, an analyst at Mizuho Investors Securities in Tokyo.

"Although this is an interesting product, they have already been left behind in televisions, so it's not going to be easy."

Sony's Kazuo Hirai, seen as a likely successor to CEO Howard Stringer, made his first public appearance this week after the company promoted the gaming division chief to the number 2 position last month.

Sales of tablet devices are expected to quadruple to about 294 million units between 2011 and 2015, with almost half that Android-based, research firm Gartner has forecast.

Sony's tablets, code-named S1 and S2, are WiFi and 3G/4G compatible. 

S1 has a 9.4-inch display and is designed make it easier to hold for long periods of time, while the S2 has two 5.5-inch displays in a clamshell design.

Sony had been criticised for failing to come up with a tablet offering after iPad's launch last April, and says it is focusing on differentiating its tablet from rivals, even if that takes time.

"Although it's a late comer in the market, it has potential as what you need is just one big uniqueness that can sell to customers be it design or whatever," said Lee Sun-tae, an analyst at Meritz Securities in Seoul.

"It can be just one of another Android gadgets flooding the market amid intensifying competition."

Competitors including Samsung Electronics - whose Galaxy Tab is Apple's strongest competitor in the tablet market - and Motorola , LG Electronics and HTC are trying to tap into burgeoning demand by flooding the market with tablets running Android.

Hewlett-Packard Co unveiled its entrant in the tablet race in February.

Further reading:

See Reuters' tablet growth forecast

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