Arguably the world’s most famous and venerated technology corporation, Sony has had its fair share of hardships these last few years. With a generation of consumers migrating from big screen, big ticket electronics onto so-called “smart devices” and their incumbent tiny screens, Sony’s “bread and butter” products must now take a back seat to their Xperia and other lines.
The big question on every Sony fan or investor’s mind is; “can the company revisit the summit of the technology mountain.”
偉挙 (Excellent Deeds)
I was just reading a Bloomberg story about Sony’s dynamic CEO Kazuo Hirai (below right), and the obvious turnaround he has steered Sony toward. In that take, Hirai apparently seeks to leverage the knowledge and influence past Apple execs possess, as the Sony boss proposes adding Eikoh Harada and Tim Schaaff to Sony’s board next.
The gist of Mariko Yasu’s report comes down to a critical and interesting point, whether or not Kazuo Hirai can use increased capital from the sale of unprofitable assets and the spinning of Sony Entertainment assets for transforming (or shifting) into high gear the company’s mobile products? To be blunt here, catching Apple in the sale of hand held goodies is not going to be easy for Hirai.
Currently Apple sells four times as many hand held units as Sony, but their flagship Xperia Z is an excellent conduit for increased profitability, if not overall sales growth. For US users the $630 unit price says something about Sony quality, and as engadget reports here similarly priced ZLTE at 4G speeds are a big bonus for American fans.
And for most of us who have been Sony owners over the years, anyone knows this company is fully as capable as any on Earth of producing superior products. I actually look forward to Sony being challenge here. That said, something Steve Jobs himself once said is something I’ll bet a Sony engineer or two wispered long before Apple even existed:
“Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” – Steve Jobs –
The Emulation Principle
Even better, the slim and waterproof Sony Xperia Tablet Z is actually a far better competitor versus Apple than their hand held. From personal experience (lots of it) the strengths of the fabulous iPad 2 (which we abuse abundantly) have just about faded into tech mediocrity. Of a users perspective, I categorically praise and condemn Apple’s tablet daily. On the down side, Apple’s feud with Adobe has made entertainment life here in Germany miserable for our whole family and some staff.
Aside the conflicts in video viewing there, there’s also the nasty inconvenience on even Watchever for not being able to see new films in English. For most readers, what I’m hinting at may be nebulous, but for the many using iPad in Europe, I know you feel my pain. For Sony, and Mr. Hirai, herein resides a valuable opportunity.
Clearly what Sony needs to do here is emulate what Apple has done best, and exceed the world’s best high end product developer at making superior smart devices. But, there’s more Sony leverage that can be leveled onto the smart device battlefield. I’m talking now about the same Sony Entertainment Hirai has used to get fuel for this shift in focus. One huge advantage Apple has over every other smart device player is the company’s peripheral content and key interplay devices. In short, electronic wonders like Apple TV and a world of marketed products to support iPhones, iPads, ans etc., this is really an area where Apple rules, especially for fans. Connecting iPads via remote capabilities and the like, to Apple TV programming and the ensuing revenue, enables Apple to do what Steve Jobs was so brilliant at – enjoying profit.
Those smart and personable (sonny for short back in the 50’s) who founded Sony so long ago, Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka would surely have relished the chance to compete in today’s market. Somehow the confluence of technological advance and economies of production today, they mirror in reality past eras of dynamic change. Just like Sony the budding company of the era of beatniks and the transmutation of the phrase “made in Japan”, today’s Song Group is at a crossroads too. When Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo (the company’s original name) created Japan’s first tape recorder, I’ll bet there were naysayers a plenty foretelling of doom. Now, more than half a century later, Android and iOS, control the market and profit shares respectively of the new technology age. Who was it that controlled tape recording device sales in 1947? Brush Development Company?
The Two World’s Collide
Sony did not invent the first smart phone (well, actually Ericsson did in the 70’s), Nokia is generally credited with making the first viable PDAs. And while tablet touch screen technology can largely be attributed to Microsoft, it was Apple’s iPad that took the game to it’s current level of play. The point I am making is, Sony embodies an ancient oriental character, and always has. Just as Japan emulated their greater neighbor China back in the 5th and 6th centuries (PDF), and then exerted their own beliefs and incorporated the best of both worlds back then, today the principals of competitive emulation (The Harvard Crimson) are still at work for that great society.
Without leaping off into Oriental culture and philosophy, and student of early or late history understands the Japanese as the world’s most prolific refiners of craftsmanship, even art. What has this to do with Sony’s strategy now? Making the collision in between big tech and mobile matter most, this is the rub for Sony. And if you study their marketing and development, you’ll see they’re already on it. The Sony 4k TV on the one end, and Z tablets and phones at the other…
There’s a big collision in between mobile and static existence going on right now. The tech world gleams at the mention of some Y Generation kiddos hand in hand on the one hand, and hand on smart device in the other imagery. This is natural and good. However, until Google comes out with Google Glass that makes use of holographic 3D, everybody has to go home to a huge Sony flat screen to get the full game or gaming effect. And let’s face it, wearable tech is uncomfortable and illogical as clothes during sex. Sony Entertainment, Sony little gadgets, interacting with Sony big gadgets, and flawlessly so…. This is how the world’s most famous gadget makers get back in the game.
This and, an idea in mobile I’ll be talking about later. For now though, don’t count out those brilliant Japanese scientists in the secret rooms. Hey, an urban legend tells of Japan naming a town USA so that products could be labeled “Made in USA, Japan” – smart huh? I leave you with something Sony has in kinship with Apple creatives, just being cool.