Xperia Illumination API: Next Bright Thing or Blinking Distraction?

Sony has released an API that lets developers control an LED light at the bottom for many of its Xperia devices. Behind this "experimental" API that seems almost too trivial to report on is an important business design question. As Jim Collins in his book Good To Great has noted, great companies keep lists of things they won't do. That keeps them making choices, keeps them focused. Executives at Apple have made the same point. So which category does this API fall into for Sony, the do list or the don't do list?

My gut reaction was: well, Apple wouldn't have done this without having a much more obvious use for it. But it's all too easy to take the efforts of a business like Sony that doesn't have dominant market share and think, "desperate move." Cameron Summerson of Androidpolice offers a different view:

"Sony is calling the Illumination API an experimental API (the first of its kind for the company), which essentially means it will be released with limited Documentation and virtually no support; basically, you're on your own with this one. Fortunately, it seems pretty straightforward – it can be used to control the LED color, the pulsation and time between pulses, as well as pre-defined fading patterns on certain models. The API also allows the LED to illuminate in rhythm with music on the Xperia SP. Neat stuff."

So, who needs blinking lights on their phone? That's the kind of question that could fall two ways: no one (it's an annoyance for users), or everyone because it makes some currently unforeseen use possible. Sony can't seem to answer that with its own applications to take advantage of it, at least not yet. The resolution of this issue is squarely in the hands of the developer community. Sony has made a tiny roll of the dice in terms of splitting its focus. Whatever turns up (failure or something interesting or wild success), could shine a light on the conditions under which you offer something that, at least initially, appears to have limited value.

Want to prove Sony made a wise bet? Anna Aleryd at Sonymobile outlines how to get going. Full details are also available.

Be sure to read the next API article: Leap Motion Opens Airspace, Expands Beta Testing