Sony and Line consider alliance on AI-powered consumer devices

The logo of Sony Corporation at the company's headquarters in Tokyo.
The logo of Sony Corporation at the company's headquarters in Tokyo.PHOTO: AFP

BARCELONA (BLOOMBERG) - Sony and Line, Japan's most popular messaging service, are considering joining forces to develop devices powered by artificial intelligence.

The companies are exploring opportunities around digital personal assistant technology to co-create a new communication experience, Sony said in a statement at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona on Monday (Feb 27). Sony unveiled concept earphones powered by Xperia Agent, a virtual butler that responds to voice commands and head gestures.

While Sony's Xperia smartphones are an also-ran in a market dominated by Apple and Samsung Electronics, chief executive officer Kazuo Hirai has resisted pressure to shutter the mobile business.

He argues it will serve as a springboard into the nascent market for wearable and interconnected devices known as the Internet of Things.

The Japanese company is now betting on gadgets imbued with intelligent software to revive the formerly iconic consumer electronics brand. 

A messaging service may not seem like the obvious partner for the task, but Line joins a growing list of software companies entering the hardware space, including Facebook's acquisition of a virtual reality start-up and Snap's camera spectacles. The Tokyo-based company last year founded a machine learning and artificial intelligence lab to develop new services for its more than 220 million users as revenues from digital stickers and free-to-play mobile games slow.

Sony also unveiled Xperia Touch, a US$1,600 interactive projector that converts any flat surface into a 23-inch touchscreen, and a smartphone model with a super-slow motion camera and 4K screen.