Great hardware, shame about everything else. Guess who!

walkmanhome.jpg Photo: Polapix Be sure to catch Gizmodo's series on the decline of Sony. It highlights--among other things--why very good isn't good enough when you have excellent competitors. Its problems are legion. Aside from the well-understood structural and balance-sheet woes, Sony sells countless nearly-identical products with forgettable names, trading on its coolness in lieu of a vision for what customers might want to do with their high-tech toys. Joel Johnson's anchoring feature, How Sony Lost its Way, sums it up, especially his quip about the company's inevitable response to Apple's iPad: "I am sighing preemptively for the beautiful black slate that Sony will release in 2011, then never upgrade again." The best piece, however, is his story about the two brothers who established the company--and the engineer-dominated "silos" that have become such a deadly liability to it.


  1. Yeah I remember the time when you wanted quality electronic you would say “Sony” and no question asked. They have fallen down far now.
    Just one thing, you guys link to the Giz story by linking to all tags “#Sony” yet Giz has made a tag just for the stories “#wemisssony”.. I mean showing all things Sony will also get you those story but the 2nd one is more focused

  2. Part of the problem is the dedication to proprietary hardware. That is, is you buy everything Sony, everything will work great with each other. However, if you have even one non-sony brand device, said interconnects become worth less and less. Things like Memory Stick.

    Shame, too. I went Point&shoot camera shopping a year or so ago, and completely ignored the Sony cameras because even though the features were decent for the price, I’ve been burned enough in the past by proprietary crap that nobody else supported.

    And yes, I do own approximately 8 albums on MiniDisk.

  3. Man, I used to be a total Sony fanboy. I had a 32 inch Trinitron and an entire Sony home theater system. My first CD player, DVD player and surround sound systems were all Sony. I spent a months salary on a Sony 10 disc CD changer for my car when I was in high school. My first 4 digital cameras were Sony. I even bought one of those ugly purple Vaio laptops around 2000.

    A few years ago, I was at my third store of the day looking for the particular flavor of Memory Stick that my camera required and they didn’t have it. I said screw it and bought a Canon that took SD cards. This was around the time the whole rootkit thing was going on and that pushed me the rest of the way.

    I have owned several Canon cameras since then including a couple of $1000.00+ SLR’s. My home theater is now all JVC and Pioneer. It’s too bad because I don’t think anyone else has the build quality of Sony products.

  4. I, too, was once a loyal Sony customer, but they chose to become irrelevant via proprietary formats and DRM years ago. Little point in discussing them now, except to give one last Nelson “Ha-ha.”

    No, I’m writing to nominate “silo” as the annoying buzzword of 2010, and to stake my claim as First Hater.

  5. +1 For former Sony fanboydom. It all came crashing down the day I had to replace the power supply in my VIAO desktop. What should have cost $40 and taken a trip to CompUSA, cost $230 and a week for shipping. I still bought my kids PSP’s which we all hated, until I jail broke them, now we love them except for the stupid Memory Stick cards.

  6. One curious exception is the Sony Reader (I have the 505), which tries to fix several of Sony’s past mistakes in supporting only proprietary formats. Sure it uses some for DRMed / purchased content, but also reads several, more open file types like .txt, .doc, and .pdf. And with Calibre (which is de facto software for pretty much any eReader) even the proprietary (non-DRMed) filetypes can be transferred to and from. The Reader also curiously has slots for BOTH an SD card and a Memory Stick Duo, probably as a gimme for the unfortunates that bought into Memory Sticks while supporting the SD card standard. That said the 505 is solidly constructed, easy on the eyes, and simple to use, which probably accounts for its rabid (but relatively small) fanbase across the webs.

    1. Yep, when I first read about the Sony Reader’s comparative openness and format support, I thought it indicated a bit of a seachange at Sony. I hope they keep moving in that direction.

  7. I think that right now, the one thing that Sony seems to be getting (mostly) right is their PS3 service. The device is beautifully constructed, reliable, and the firmware updates have consistently added functionality.

    It’s like old, GOOD Sony in that it uses standard ports, standard drives, can accept standard USB keyboards and mouses, and is physically well engineered. The PS3, bless it, is mostly free of the whole Sony nickel-and-dime bastardry—for a console.

    I think it is kind of fair to say that Sony seems (I hope…) to be learning their lesson about proprietary accessories and formats, mostly thanks to Apple whipping them in the the portable device arena and them actually having to compete. As far as I know the horrid Memory Stick format is kind of doomed.

    For what it’s worth, it’s not just Sony. All laptop manufacturers screw you on the power bricks (we keep some cheap universals at the office for visitors). Every camera manufacturer locks you into their lens mount (adaptors), and holy satan, don’t get me started on Apple and all their stupid connectors. I’m an informal sysadmin at my office and explaining to the occasional transient luddite with his trophy Apple device why he needs to spend half the price of his device for a cable just to charge it is wearying.

  8. Trinitrons were great as far as CRT tv’s went. We still have a 27 incher in our bedroom that, despite being bought well over a decade ago still runs great. But, forebodingly, the remote that came with it quit working shortly into its life. That and a Sony cordless phone dying shortly after purchase was enough to convince me they made a few really good products and a lot of really crappy ones. Since then I’ve bought a Playstation and PlaystationII, but nothing else with the Sony name.

    I think the fact that interface design and usability have risen in importance have hurt Sony a lot. When all a Walkman needed was four buttons, engineers could easily give us something that executed all of its functions without issue. But now that even a telephone has a deep windowed UI that requires navigation, and things have to interoperate with other things, Sony has fallen behind whereas companies with strong roots in software (Apple,MS) have been able to rise against them.

  9. Yes, the readers and PS3 network are the way forward. My hope is that Sony will focus on a ‘core gadgets’ lineup that are all mutually compatible, network with one another and are easy to use. Android would be the perfect foundation for solving Sony’s ‘don’t give a shit about software’ problem, too.

  10. Not a huge fan of their consumer products, for the standard “proprietary stuff” reasons.

    That said, 3/4″ U-Matic and later, Betacam and its BetaSP cousin had unparalleled runs of success in the production world, and I’m willing to bet that more than half the broadcast television anyone watches is made with Sony cameras and recording gear. That stuff is still top-notch.

  11. …For those of us who saw Betamax as superior to VHS, only to see Sony sink it’s own boat by being a bunch of greedy dickwads over their monopoly on selling Beta blank tape, combined with their policy of making replacement parts for their high-end audio equipment(*) back in the 70’s being more expensive than buying a brand-new and half the time inferior unit, all I can say is these bastards brought their own demise on themselves.

    (*) In 1978 I bought a cassette tape stereo deck with an 8-channel mixer and possibly the best AGC I have come across in 35 years of dealing with audio equipment. I paid ~#200.00 on it in 1978 US dollars, and it worked perfectly for six years without ever so much as pinching a tape, much less eating one. Then the motor began fluttering if it got warm, and the added resistance caused the belts to wear on the wheels so that they wore down and caused tapes to be played back and recorded at a noticeably different speed than tapes that had been recorded both six years *and* one month prior to the motor flutter starting. I contacted Sony about replacement parts, and the catamites wanted $300.00 for the motor, and $120.00 for *each* of the three wheels, which had to be purchased as a set. A similar instance happened when I had a Sony Hi-8 camera break an armature that holds the cassette tape hatch in the upward position. I got the camera new for $288.00, Sony wanted $150.00 for the armature, and it didn’t come with a special bushing that also needed to be replaced, for which they wanted an additional $75.00. That same Hi-8 could be bought for $99.00 at closeout prices. So no, Sony has no sympathy coming from me. Not one iota…

  12. Not much new to add except my own two cents; but I remember in the ’80s and ’90s Sony was THE brand for all the AV-philes around me. Trinatron was the shiznit back in the day. . .and yet, now that I have the money to buy the toys I want/need; the price point does not match the quality ~enough~: last year went to Video Only to buy 46″ LCDTV: Samsung and Sony right beside each other. . .Samsung looked brighter and cost $200 less: got it and have no complaints (and while BluRay looks great, I see obsolescence in its future: Laserdisc all over again. . .) Pity about the proprietary BS and lack of brand focus that’s hurting them. . .but they’re doing it to themselves. And how about the solid brass MD player for $1900?!. . .”I’ll buy THAT for a dollar!”

  13. I still can’t believe the PS3 doesn’t have an IR port. Not being able to control the blu-ray with a universal remote is a huge oversight for something that is supposed to be a part of your entertainment center.

  14. Back in the day I was so happy with the limited edition brushed aluminum-cased super slim Walkman, that run off a single AA battery, had Dolby & support for chrome and metal tapes, and excellent, fat analogue sound! It wasn’t much thicker than a cassette case. It was like the Powerbook of cassette players. Remember those days!
    I left that behind at an airport x-ray checkpoint. :(

    Nowadays Fony is in the same category as Sharp for consumer products. Never again!

    Captcha: clubbed earaches

  15. sony ran into two problem, one of them being a problem i only got wind of recently.

    1. japan only got into the whole “home computer is the hub of everything electronic you own” mentality only recently, if at all.

    2. whenever sony as a media electronics company tried to be customer friendly, sony as a media studios company clobbered their ideas. But somehow sony the games console company avoided that faith, to some degree.

  16. Sony’s biggest failing is when they became more of a movie/content company than a consumer electronics company. That’s how they went from a great product company, champion of fair use (i.e. Betamax defense), and makers of what consumers want – to primarily a law firm. Now the overriding motivation for their hardware is only as a vehicle to push (and protect) content. That’s how we get Sony’s contrary formats, root-kit scandals, and other anti-consumer products. When they made Howard Stringer (from the movie side) CEO, that really proved the point. Akio Morita is crying in his grave.

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