If you had a 60 year history of producing electronics, had produced many segment defining products, some backed with proprietary technology you licensed to competitors and then, to protect your supply chain, you bought a film studio and a record company you would think you had a real chance of future proofing your business. Wrong.
The company is Sony and for all its assets, track record, great marketing, economies of scale and international reach it still keeps missing the technology zeitgeist, and perhaps that’s its issue, it doesn’t really get technology. To see its dominant share of the mobile music market destroyed in 5 years by a competitor with few of the capabilities previously described takes some doing. It’s not iPod that killed Walkman, but iTunes. Technology as distribution, not just as devices.
Don’t misunderstand the argument, Sony produce some great products; its Bravia (and before that Trinitron) TVs, cameras, phones, Playstations, Hi-fi, VCR’s, Vaio computers, the list goes on. But what it doesn’t win plaudits for is its propriety software, its user interfaces, the way its products can be networked etc. Its Playstation console is arguably better than Microsoft’s Xbox 360, with its built in Blue-ray player (again it invented it) and none of the Xbox’s red ring of death problems, but it still hasn’t dominated. Why? Not innovative enough around supporting game design and not developing the on-line offering fast or effectively enough.
The CEO, Howard Stringer, is on a mission to make Sony “cool”. To do that he’s got to change the cultural mind-set, away from the slinky, sliver Sony products, to something that might not even be product focused at all. What about creating memorable, immersive user experiences? Or taking their hardware excellence and linking it with some really innovative software and showing how that (app style) might link into social networks.
Sony doesn’t need better products, they need a different kind of imagination.