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New Sony Mylo Bolsters Wi-FiCommunications

Sony redesigned its Wi-Fi-equipped Mylo personal communicator and bolstered its feature set to accelerate sales and expand its targeted age group, product manager Phil Boyle announced.

The second-generation model, due this month, adds new communications-related features and assumes a trimmed-down appearance that’s less toy-like, he explained. Some of the changes will expand the target demographic to 14- to 22-year-olds from 18- to 22-year-olds.

Some of the new features include an improved Web-surfing experience, the addition of AOL Instant Messaging to join Google Talk and Yahoo Messenger IM services, preloaded games, flash-format video to stream YouTube and other social-network videos via Wi-Fi, and built-in digital camera, making it possible to pictures taken by the Mylo to a blog or social-network site.

The new model ships this month at an expected everyday $299, down $50 from the original Mylo’s launch price.

Though the Mylo offers the music and video-playback capabilities of a portable media player (PMP), Sony considers the device a personal communicator because its main mission is to “replicate the PC communications experience when you’re mobile,” Boyle explained. Mylo, for example, lets kids execute multiple cross-platform IM chats while listening to music, surfing the Web, viewing photos and videos, or playing games as they would on a PC.

“We don’t want to be seen as a portable PC,” Boyle said. “There’s nothing productive about Mylo. It’s all about taking the fun part of a PC with you. It’s a cousin to the PC, not the cousin of a cellphone or PDA.”

Sales of the original Mylo “did fine,” he said,” “but there is always room for growth.” With the Mylo, he noted, “Sony launched a new category.”

Because it’s such a new category, Sony will revise its ad campaign to focus more on the product itself and what it does. “We must double the education effort,” he said. “There is a lot of misunderstanding about what difference [portable] devices do.”

Sony will continue to do the bulk of Mylo advertising online and on social-network sites. The company might also reprise targeted newspaper ads in college towns, Boyle said.

Like before, the new Mylo offers Wi-Fi Web browsing, and Skype VoIP phone calls. Users can hold a VoIP phone call by holding the Mylo like a cellphone or using a hands-free headset. Also like before, Mylo features a slide-out QWERTY keyboard, 1GB embedded memory, Memory Stick Duo slot and playback of stored music and video.

Upgrades include Wi-Fi 802.11b/g to upload and download at rates faster than those allowed by the original’s 802.11b radio. The unit will also have a higher resolution 840 by 480-pixel widescreen LCD screen, replacing a 320 by 240 4:3 screen. Users can view view the entire width of a Web page without having to scroll left and right.

The Mylo touchscreen lets users select Web links embedded in a web page. A stylus is included in the package. Sony added that a bigger keyboard whose raised-surface buttons are spread out more and sport a “click feel” is part of the new unit, plus backlighting for the keyboard and pre-installed and downloadable games, all in the flash format.

Other Mylo features are a 1.3-megapixel camera with ability to edit photos before posting them; support for 8GB Memory Stick Duo cards, up from 5GB; RSS and podcast support; AOL email; and pre-installed widgets, which include YouTube, Facebook, Google Search, contacts and RSS feeds. A software developers kit lets third parties develop widgets, but Sony is also developing additional widgets for download.

Also new is AAC audio playback, joining the previous model’s MP3, ATRAC, and protected- and unprotected-WMA playback of side-loaded music. The Mylo continues to support subscription WMA downloads side-loaded from a PC. In video, the higher performance MPEG-4 AVC baseline codec joins the MPEG-4 simple advanced codec.

Battery life will remain about the same: 45 hours for music playback and eight hours of video playback. An optional charging cradle holds the Mylo up at an angle for easy viewing while charging.

Like before, the Mylo will connect to WEP- and WPA-encrypted networks and to the “bulk” of subscription-based hot spots that require browser-based sign-in, Boyle said. Sony hopes to continue to offer a free year of T-Mobile hot spot service with the purchase of the new Mylo as it did with the previous Mylo and with the current PlayStation Portable.

Although Sony is broadening the Mylo’s target to kids as young as 14, Sony is eschewing a toy-like design because kids as young as 14 don’t want aren’t looking for a toy-like appearance, Boyle said. Sony’s Mylo distribution already reaches the expanded demographic through online retailers and major brick-and-mortar retailers, he noted.