Apple board member and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has said that Apple's future success lies in the digital-appliances market - and Sony will be its main competition.

Ellison, speaking to Business Week's Captains of Industry symposium, asserted: "I think Apple can be the greatest provider of digital appliances in this market. Apple's biggest competitor is going to be Sony."

He added that he is "very optimistic" about Apple's future and spoke of his close friendship with Apple and Pixar CEO Steve Jobs. He also discussed Oracle's strategy, the future of technology, Microsoft and Bill Gates.

Internet appliances Ellison revealed he believes Apple does not currently make Internet appliances because Jobs has had to focus on returning the company to profitability using its main strength as a personal computer manufacturer.

On Oracle and Ellison's success, he said: "I question conventional wisdom all the time - you don't need to identify too many errors in conventional thinking to make a living."

It is widely thought that Apple is planning a major product announcement in Tokyo, with most pundits expecting new iMacs. Apple has consistently denied that it has been developing an Internet appliance. During his keynote speech at Macworld Expo San Francisco, Jobs discussed the challenges inherent in developing Internet appliances, warning that these could lack the flexibility to accommodate the ever-changing standards on the Internet.

Flexible hub Apple is focusing its efforts on turning the Mac into a digital hub, adding value and data-storage abilities to devices such as digital-video cameras, MP3 players and handheld computers.

The market for personal computers is depressed, with analysts forecasting economic problems ahead - this is driving many industry players to focus efforts on product development to recapture market appeal.

Macworld Expo Tokyo opens at 1am (GMT) on February 22.

The full interview is available as a streamed video clip in RealPlayer format on Business Week's Web site.