The Sony Future Lab could be as forward-thinking as the Walkman

Sony is doing something unheard of in the consumer electronic space: It’s going to show off prototypes. Can you imagine Apple or Samsung doing that? Not really, no. For several good reasons, electronic companies like to keep products under wraps until they’re completely finished and the company can unveil it with many dogs and ponies.

Sony’s calling this program Future Lab and the first product in the program will be unveiled next week at SXSW. Called Concept “N”, Sony teases the device as “Free your ears, hands, and eyes. Enjoy your favorite activities to the full with a wearable device that never hinders movement.” So yeah, whatever that means.

Future Lab feels like a way for Sony to soft launch various gadgets and test consumers’ reactions. Sony needs this. Over the last few years the company shed much of its excess that was slowing it down and caused it to miss out on the mobile revolution. A generation ago, Sony was the market leader in several key areas. But while Sony was building a movie studio, Apple and Samsung and Lenovo started making gadgets. Future Lab won’t cause Sony to suddenly become the king of electronics again, though it could help it regain its soul.

So far the details of Future Lab are thin. It appears Sony will use it to show off new gadgets with the hope to get feedback from potential users. Kind of like Kickstarter.

In the summer of 2015 Sony launched a similar service in Japan called First Flight that offered a similar service. It’s a site were Sony gadgets could be crowdfunded, thus bring them to market. Sony put five gadgets on First Flight. It’s unclear if Future Lab will replace First Flight.

If done properly, Future Lab could be a big marketing win for Sony. The company might not have the market share it once did, but it’s hard to deny that its current products are not among the best designed products available. Sony clearly didn’t lose its affinity for good design. Future Lab could shed some light into Sony’s R&D labs. That’s exciting. Sony already releases some of the most wild products. I for one want to see what it doesn’t release.